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Unless we’re involved in a crash that causes airbags to deploy, most of us don’t give these safety devices a second thought. We simply assume that any car would have enough airbags to keep us safe. But is this true? Are certain vehicles, like trucks, required to have side airbags?

When did airbags become mandatory?

In 1952, John W. Hetrick was involved in an auto accident that caused him to consider the damage done when a driver strikes the dashboard. According to Consumer Affairs, he decided he’d feel safer if his vehicle had a “safety cushion.” Hetrick and a German inventor created prototype airbags. A few years later, Ford experimented with installing airbags in a few of their vehicles. GM followed suit. 

The problem both American automakers encountered with early airbags was how to deploy them quickly enough to actually save people from life-threatening injuries. To address this problem, Allen Breed focused on a patented “sensor and safety system” in 1968. Mercedes-Benz liked the system and began using airbags in some of their vehicles.

This move was spurred by a sudden rise in auto accidents as well as the fact that the U.S. government issued a federal law requiring all vehicles made in 1969 and later to have some sort of “automatic occupant protection system.”

While the new law only required automakers to install seatbelts in vehicles, Ford and GM saw the writing on the wall and reconsidered airbags. Plenty of skeptics questioned the need for the airbags. Many felt the deployment during an accident could potentially cause as many problems as they solved. The questions inspired a study showing that three-point seatbelts were more useful than current airbags.

Automakers still weren’t convinced. Designers continued to work on airbag technology to make them safer. As the science improved, so did the protection the airbags provided. By the late ’80s, the federal government passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. It required that all brand-new light trucks and cars be equipped with frontal airbags as of September 1, 1998.

Any pickup trucks manufactured after August 1998 are required to have frontal airbags. (Just so you know, the little warning printed on your car — letting you know of the potential danger connected to small children and airbags — was required as of 1993.

What about side airbags in trucks?

Many vehicles are equipped with side airbags since they minimize injuries during a rollover or side-impact accident. However, side airbags aren’t required at this point. Manufacturers can choose to include them or leave them out.

If you want side airbags, you’ll have to look for a truck that offers them as either a standard or special feature. If you’re wondering if you should look for a truck that’s equipped with side airbags, it’s worth noting that data indicates side airbags prevent death in 37% of side-impact crashes.