Cyclist-specific airbag system to be trialled in Amsterdam

Developers hope device will help prevent hundreds of cyclists being killed or seriously injured each year

by Simon_MacMichael   March 1, 2010  


One of the world’s leading automotive safety companies is to trial an airbag system to help protect cyclists in Amsterdam this autumn, which could lead to the device entering production with leading car manufacturers as early as 2015.

The trial, which will last a year, will assess the effect of the prototype system’s sensors in urban traffic, and will not see the airbag used in a real-life scenario, although ultimately it is hoped that it can prevent hundreds of cyclists across Europe from being killed or seriously injured each year.

Assuming it goes into production, the airbag would be mounted on the outside of cars and other motorised vehicles, with sensors deployed to identify when a cyclist is present and anticipate a collision. At that point, the airbag would be deployed, providing a cushion for the cyclist’s head to reduce impact and, by extension, the number and severity of injuries and deaths.

The system has been designed by Autoliv, a Swedish-American company quoted on both the Stockholm and New York stock exchanges that has annual turnover of $6.5 billion and which counts all of the world’s leading motor manufacturers among its customers. It has been partnered in the research and development of the system by Dutch safety research consultancy TNO Automotive, the Netherlands’ Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, and the Fietresbond, the Dutch cyclists’ union and an insurance company, Achmea.

According to an article in the March edition of Fietersbond’s magazine, Vogelvrije Fietser, which obtained thanks to Marc, owner of the blog, who also made us aware of the trial in the first place, the system could be implemented for as little as €200 per vehicle.

Thijs van de Broek of TNO Automotive told the magazine that a transport organisation such as a parcel delivery firm that relies heavily on motorised vehicles in an urban environment is now being sought to help trial the system. “The intention is to fit the system in cars that drive a lot of miles in the inner city,” he said, adding that the trial will focus on developing the system’s sensors to ensure that it is triggered when necessary, and not by accident.

“People must have faith in the system in order for the technology to be accepted,” explained van de Broek. “The airbag should never be activated without reason, but neither should it fail when it must be activated,” he continued, adding that depending on consumer and industry response, the system was expected to be made available in 2015.

Theo Zeegers, who is overseeing the Fietsersbond’s involvement in the initiative, described that as “an amazing result,” adding “we’ve come much further than we’d ever hoped for.” Zeegers called for the airbag system to be made compulsory in all new vehicles, saying: “Just compare it to the compulsory introduction of the catalytic converter.”

The Fietersbond is calling for the airbag to be made compulsory throughout Europe, and says that this would save “hundreds of road casualties a year.” However, it says that in order for research to be completed, some €2.7 million is needed. The Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management has already pledged half that money, while the balance is expected to come from other national governments within the EU and from manufacturers such as Autoliv.

TNO Automotive believes that with European countries continuing to promote greener forms of transportation as a means of reducing car dependency, the case for the introduction of airbags designed to protect cyclists and pedestrians who are struck by motor vehicles is becoming more pressing. “‘The airbag is also highly effective in collisions with pedestrians, and more and more people start cycling in large European cities such as Paris, London and Berlin,” he stated. “This makes such an airbag system increasingly vital.”

The company has made footage of its tests using crash test dummies available on YouTube. The results of impact, even at relatively low speeds, are chilling. “I noticed that visitors were truly shocked during the crash tests,” said van de Broek, adding that “these crash tests are the last vital step in establishing the specifications for the detection system and airbag.”

TNO studies on an existing airbag system designed by Autoliv that is intended to protect pedestrians showed that it provided limited protection for cyclists, so the development of a dedicated system has been warmly welcomed by the Fietsersbond. “In collisions with passenger cars in which the cyclists dies, it is nearly always the head injuries that are fatal,” explained Zeegers. “That’s why we’ve been busy for years trying to find out how we can make cars safer for cyclists.”

Its work in that area has included commissioning TNO Automotive to carry out a study four years ago that found that while side airbags could protect cyclists in the event of a collision, they needed to be placed correctly on the vehicle, and not necessarily where they would be located if protecting pedestrians were the primary concern, because unlike pedestrians, whose heads often hit the bonnet or lower part of the windscreen, cyclist head impact is higher up.

As to the effectiveness of the airbag, Vogelvrije Fietser cited Head Injury Criterion (HIC) data obtained as part of the testing process, under which values should stay below 1,000 or, for elderly people, 600. Research from TNO Automotive in 2008 found that in a 30kph impact, a cyclist would suffer an HIC of 3,700, making serious injury or death highly likely. With an airbag deployed, however, that dropped dramatically to 590, with the magazine claiming that “ all a cyclist will suffer from in that case is a headache and dizziness.”

8 user comments

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How many drivers would be more encouraged to hit the cyclist with something like this on their car?

LOL @ Old Ridgeback - you beat me to it.

jobysp's picture

posted by jobysp [145 posts]
1st March 2010 - 15:51


Aha, so now motorists will be able to run you down and then claim they were just testing their airbags.


posted by OldRidgeback [2586 posts]
1st March 2010 - 16:00


Joby - it's the sprinting training from racing BMX that makes me quick off the mark.


posted by OldRidgeback [2586 posts]
1st March 2010 - 16:01


I'm sorry but surely there has to come a point where you accept the risks of any given activity? We now have airbag protected cloths for motorcycling. My concern is that the safety measures will get to the point of removing the pleasure/convenience of the activity in question and so people will stop doing them. Obviously if these things are made compulsory. With cycling aren't the general health benefits of regular exercise to the general population "greater" than how many injuries devices like this will save.

I choose to wear a helmet and accept the risks of cycling.

IMHO better cycling facilities and driver education would be much more beneficial than a technological solution.

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [495 posts]
1st March 2010 - 16:22


Bikeandy - on the way home today a bus coming the other way stopped and a string of cars overtook, forcing me to dive for the pavement. The fact is that there are a lot of rubbish drivers about who don't do what they're supposed to do, perhaps because they're jabbering into their phones or texting (one of the drivers had his mobile out). Bike helmets offer minimal protection. Cyclists need all the safety devices they can get.


posted by OldRidgeback [2586 posts]
1st March 2010 - 22:07


I wish the car industry was made to take cyclist and pedestrian safety seriously and not with gimmicks like this.
I bought my car not least because it had a 5* safety rating and had a fine sticker in the back window to say so. Only later did I research and find it has a lowly 1* for pedestrian safety. Why are such cars allowed to be made - why not insist on better pedestrian safety?
(incidentally its a small family hatchback and not a 4x4)

TheHatter's picture

posted by TheHatter [811 posts]
1st March 2010 - 22:15


Until the publication of Ralph Nader's book 'Unsafe at any speed' in the 60s the automotive industry didn't take safety seriously at all, not even for vehicle users. The book lambasted car makers in general and GM in particular for the safety design failings of numerous models. The Chevrolet Corvair was singled out for its spectacularly poor safety levels and numerous design failings. The combination of a rear-mounted engine and cheap rear suspension meant it was at risk of roll-overs, compounded by the fact that dealers didn't have the knowledge to advise owners on the correct tyre pressures. Improving the rear suspension would have cost $10-15/car but GM didn't want to cut into its profits - the design of the car was only changed after the book was published but as sales had already plummeted the model was then dropped from the range. The Corvair also had a tendency for its engine to overheat and catch fire, the estate/station wagon model in particular. Ford's Pinto model was later criticised as the location of the fuel tank meant that the car was likely to burst into flames if struck by another vehicle from the rear. Leaked internal documents from Ford said it was cheaper to pay off the families of victims rather than redesign the car - this is all well documented and the paperwork stating those details was revealed many years ago.
Nader's book was instrumental in the introduction of product liability laws, first in the US and later in Europe.
Volvo and Mercedes pioneered vehicle occupant safety, Volvo with the three point harness and Mercedes with crumple zones and dual circuit braking, introducing features years before other manufacturers followed suit. Anti lock braking was first developed in the 1950s but was not fitted as standard until the 1990s. The first Mercedes with crumple zones was tested in the late 50s and introduced in the early 60s and it took some other firms 20 years to develop similar designs.


posted by OldRidgeback [2586 posts]
2nd March 2010 - 15:18


Any innovation that may shift the judge's focus from victim-blaming "was cyclist wearing a hat" to "was the car fitted with x,y,z feature?" is to be welcomed!

posted by vbvb [443 posts]
8th March 2014 - 13:55