When sensors detect a crash, they ignite the chemicals with a spark of electricity. This sets off a flash reaction that unleashes a huge amount of nitrogen gas to inflate the bag. Don’t fear the pale powder that is released from an airbag when it activates. It’s just cornstarch or talcum powder, which manufacturers use to keep the bags pliable and lubricated while they’re stored.
Surprisingly, most airbag sensors work by tracking the car’s speed, not the force of an impact. If a car suddenly stops much faster than it ever could by brakes alone, the bags will deploy.
If your steering wheel tilts, keep it directed at your chest, not your head. Always sit at least 10 inches away from the wheel or dashboard. Newer cars often have “smart” systems that can adjust to the weight of the person in the passenger seat. If the person is relatively light, the bag will inflate less than normal. Even so, airbags can be too forceful for little bodies, so the backseat remains the safest place for children 12 and under.