Mercedes-Benz debuts driver’s airbag, seatbelt tensioner 40 years ago

Updated Dec 24, 2020 | Same topic: Automotive FYIs

The German carmaker first introduced it in December 1980.

For the most part, cars sold today are very safe. Airbags and seatbelt tensioners, after all, are now standard on most models. But did you know that it was actually Mercedes-Benz which pioneered these safety features? 

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For the benefit of those unaware, Mercedes-Benz is a car maker with a lot of industry firsts under its name. By the 1980s, it had accumulated a ton of automotive engineering know-how to position itself as a cutting-edge company. In fact, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was actually the first car equipped with airbags and seatbelt tensioners to be sold to the public.

A picture of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The 1972-1980 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

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The Airbag

About 40 years ago in 1980, a limited number of S-Class sedans were given a driver’s airbag. The said car was the first to ever come with these two features, and it was an incredibly significant milestone for automotive safety.

Unlike the old airbag that was invented by Walter Linderer back in the 1950s, Mercedes-Benz’s airbag was able to rapidly inflate within milliseconds. This feature, of course, was unavailable during the time of Linderer. Suffice to say, it took a while for the development of sensors, as well as the means for rapid gas generation to make for an effective airbag.

A picture of the Mercedes-Benz airbag undergoing tests

The development of Mercedes-Benz's airbag involved lots of testing

After being previewed on the S-Class, the airbag was then adapted to more cars in 1981. Initially, it was available as an optional extra for the rest of the Mercedes-Benz passenger car lineup at the time. Come 1992, the driver’s airbag had become standard. It was then followed by the front passenger airbag in 1994.

Over the years, many more airbags were added to different positions inside a car. However, without the innovation brought about by the ingenuity of Mercedes-Benz’s engineers, things would have been more different.

>>> Related: How car airbags work, and how they keep you safe

The seatbelt tensioner

Another safety feature introduced by Mercedes-Benz was the seatbelt tensioner. It was introduced together with the driver’s airbag on the S-Class as well.

In fact, these two safety features were actually developed in parallel. They worked in tandem to form an effective restraint system to prevent an occupant from being hurled out of the car while preventing injuries that might be caused by the sudden stop.

To make this more effective, Mercedes-Benz designed the tensioner to use the same sensor signal as the driver’s airbag. When triggered, a propellant tightens the car’s three-point seat belt in an instant, while the airbag deploys.

A picture of crash testing with seatbelt tensioner and airbag

The airbag working in tandem with the seatbelt tensioner

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Mercedes-Benz however didn’t stop improving these two aforementioned safety features. In 2002 the company came up with belt force limiters. It used an electronic tensioner, which worked in tandem with the propellant. This way, the electronic system allows the seat belt to be loosened again in the absence of a car collision.

Now in 2020, the new S-Class, which debuted recently, once again became the first car to come with the new rear airbag. It’s a new form of the old invention and it works by deploying for the rear seats. In the event of an accident, more specifically a head-on collision, these will help reduce whiplash and other injuries to the head and neck of rear passengers.

So, while Mercedes-Benz paved the way for better safety standards 40 years ago, the German marque continuously seeks new ways to take car safety to another level.

For more automotive news, car reviews, and car maintenance and buying tips, keep reading here on

Know more about Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan has been highly popularized as the benchmark of luxury vehicles. Its reputation in mainstream media has regarded it as the poster vehicle of Mercedes. Currently on its sixth generation, the sedan embodies much of the German brand’s aesthetic and engineering philosophies. The S-Class is styled with the highest regard for comfort and convenience. Complementing its timeless and sophisticated exterior is a spacious cabin furnished with a digital dashboard with a slew of controls on the steering wheel and center console. Among its many luxury features is the Energizing Comfort Control that allows rear passengers to manage the vehicle’s ambiance. Currently offered in three variants, the S-Class S 400 Blue Hybrid, the S-Class S 350 LWB, and the top-spec S-Class S500 LWB. It is available in three engine options corresponding to each variant which are a 3.5L RWD, a 3.0L AWD, and a 4.7L RWD, respectively. All engines are paired with a 7G Tronic Plus automatic transmission.

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Cesar G.B. Miguel

Cesar G.B. Miguel


Cesar is a graduate of AB English with previous experience working as a freelance writer for varied internet publications in-between his former stints in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and later as a First Aid Provider and Training Staff at the Iligan City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

Since childhood, Cesar has been keenly interested in cars. He has learned the ins and outs of these marvelous vehicles and is a competent amateur mechanic who is keen on sharing his knowledge.

Cesar is perceptive of car culture in general – not only in the Philippines but in global regard, as well. His knowledge ranges from the prevalent stories and trends among car enthusiasts around the world, to closely following the latest local and international developments in the automotive industry.

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