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Thousands of passenger vehicle occupants in Illinois and around the country are killed or seriously injured each year in side-impact collisions. Auto manufacturers equip their vehicles with the latest safety features and autonomous or semiautonomous crash avoidance technology to mitigate this danger, and several companies are said to be working on external airbag systems that would provide even more protection. According to tests conducted by the German car parts maker ZF Friedrichshafen AG, external airbags could reduce the severity of side-impact accident injuries by as much as 40 percent.

The external airbag being developed by ZF is 6.5 feet long and more than a foot thick, and it deploys in just 15 milliseconds to protect passengers with a pillow of air. Other features designed to provide protection in side-impact crashes include sturdy beams in car doors, side-curtain airbags and automatic seat belt pretensioners.

The big challenge facing engineers has been figuring out a way to prevent unintended deployments, but ZF believes that the radar, lidar and sensors fitted to many new cars could solve this problem. However, ZF is quick to point out that the tests are preliminary and concede that it could be several years before members of the public can buy cars equipped with external airbags.

Electronic systems that watch the road and operate without driver input when accidents seem imminent also record and store large amounts of data. This information could be retrieved and scrutinized by experienced personal injury attorneys pursuing litigation on behalf car accident victims. When vehicle black boxes reveal that speed limits were being exceeded or drivers were likely distracted at the time of a crash, attorneys may introduce this evidence in court to establish negligence and liability. When the car that caused an accident is older and not equipped with this technology, attorneys might visit the scene to look for cameras that may have captured the events as they unfolded.