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How Safe Are Motorcycle Airbag Vests ?

  Posted at 10:52:45 AM
  File under  Opinion Safety
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

AireTronics Motorcycle Airbag vest
AireTronics Jacket
Safety on motorcycles has become a growth industry, with more and more inventions and gadgets being applied towards safer motorcycle riding. Not so long ago we saw the first airbag for motorcycles arrive (Honda Goldwing {link}). Other items like SportVue HUD {link}, Reevu rearview helmet {link} and other like-minded devices increase the safety of bikers, in some shape or another. Anything that increases our survival rate while riding our treasured motorcycle can only be a good thing...

So when I started looking into writing an article on airbag vests (You know those motorcycle vests that act as airbags), I initially thought this is a great idea....

Invented/patented in 1989 {link}, it is only very recently that we've seen the first real applications of airbag clothing. The concept is interesting to say the least. The idea to envelop you in an airbag when ejected from your motorcycle is good and sound.

But when further investigating and thinking about it, I've started wondering....

1.        Most accident occur when you slam your motorcycle into another mass (car, truck, lamppost, mailman, etc). The time to inflate your vest, typically half a second,  would be too long before your hit that object, rendering it pretty useless. Also, you'll be leaving your motorcycle head first.
2.        If you're ejected and slide over the surface, be it tarmac or gravel, will the friction not rupture the airbag before you hit an unmovable object ? If thick leather jackets can still burn your skin when sliding, will that not puncture an airbag?
3.        When the jacket/vest is inflated making you look like the Michelin man, is your neck not at risk ?? Your head has more travel now, since it's higher due to the inflated vest.
4.        Choosing a normal motorcycle jacket is already difficult enough. We all have specific things we like to have with our jackets. Now, you need to choose very specific styles as mandated by the airbag vest manufacturers. Unless you get one of their vests that slip over the jacket.... not very comfortable.

At least one "fear" I had got dispelled after communicating with the manufacturers, that of "what happens if I get off my motorcycle and forget to detach myself". You'd look pretty stupid walking into the bar with a fully inflated jacket. Apparently you need to pull quite strongly on the strap (25 kg pull) before it will inflate the jacket.

All-in-all, I like the idea, but I have some big reservations. Now, how do I get convinced that this is good technology, and dish out hundreds of dollars...... your thoughts.....

Some manufacturers:

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