The number of airbags continues to multiply almost as fast as gears in auto transmissions.

The idea dates back to the year dot, but airbags started to appear in cars in the early 1970s, when General Motors began offering them in government, fleet-purchased, metallic green 1973 Chevrolet Impala sedans in the United States.

This is around the same time that seatbelts became compulsory in Australia.

These Chevys had a 1974-style Oldsmobile instrument panel, with a special steering wheel that contained the driver-side airbag.

Just one car from this original batch survives.

Over the years the number of airbags has continued to grow in cars, from a single airbag to protect the driver, to a second bag for the front passenger, then side and curtain airbags and one for the knees — some cars have as many as 11 airbags.

Remember the Ford Mondeo which had optional rear seatbelt airbags for the two outer seat positions?

In the latest development, Hyundai has just announced it will develop a new centre side airbag, further enhancing the safety of its vehicles.

It’s not a new idea, but it has merit.

The new centre airbag works to separate the space between driver and passenger.

It will also help the company meet tough new Euro NCAP regulations, expected to be introduced from next year.

Toyota developed the first production rear-seat center airbag in 2009 while GM introduced a front centre airbag in some models back in 2102 that deploys from the driver’s seat.

Hyundai’s says the new, additional airbag expands into the space between driver and passenger seats to prevent head injuries of passengers in the front row.

If there is no one in the front passenger seat, the airbag will protect the driver from side collision coming from the right side.

The centre side airbag is installed inside the driver’s seat and will deploy once the impact is sensed.

Hyundai says the new centre side airbag is expected to diminish head injuries caused by passengers colliding with each other by 80 per cent.

Statistics from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association show the rate of secondary damage caused by these kinds of collisions or from hitting interior materials is about 45 per cent.

Hyundai has been able to simplify the design and reduce the weight of components produce an airbag that is about 500g lighter than competing products.

“The development of centre side airbag goes beyond adding an additional airbag,” Hyock In Kwon, research engineer from Crash Safety System Engineering Design Team of Hyundai Motor Group, said.

“We will continue striving to further improve passenger safety by being ready for all kinds of accidents.”

airbag - hyundai centre airbag 02 - More airbags to come — Hyundai

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.