In 1971 Mercedes Benz patented the airbag, a system it had been developing for over five years. Mercedes has started development at the behest of the authorities that demanded a better safety system than just the seat belt. One of the reasons Mercedes decided to develop the airbag was that it would work independently of the driver. At the time, there was still a perception that seat belts were hindering and not really worth using, so many drivers avoided them. In some cases, passengers not wearing a seat belt even suffered additional injuries from the deploying airbag. Of course, we now know that airbags work best in conjunction with a seat belt.
Encouraged by successful trials (including a total of 250 crash tests and around 2,500 trial runs on the crash sled), Mercedes went on to develop the system and first offered it in its range-topping S-class sedan in 1981, as an option to begin with. In 1984 the airbag became optional on all Benz models, and it took another eight years to become standard in all models. Today, it’s unheard of for a new car to not feature at least one airbag, and now it seems we have airbags coming out of every nook and cranny of our cars.