MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - The airbag is often referred to as a Supplemental Restraint System, hence the SRS logos that you often see on your dashboard and steering wheel, and this is because without using your Primary Restraint System - which is your seatbelt - it is of virtually no use.

However, there is also a misconception out there, among certain car companies, that a seatbelt alone is enough to protect you in an accident, but a recent series of crash tests by various NCAP authorities around the world have shown just how essential airbags are at protecting occupants in a crash. Of course, good crumple zones and active safety items such as ABS brakes are also critically important, but that’s a story for another day.

Latin NCAP, which is the South American arm of crash test authority Global NCAP, recently put the Mitsubishi Triton through a crash test and, alarmingly, it failed to score a single point. But this was somewhat different to the Global NCAP test in which a South African made Nissan NP300 was deemed unacceptably dangerous because its structure practically collapsed. For starters, the Mitsubishi scored rather well in other international crash tests, with Euro NCAP awarding it four stars and Australian NCAP handing out five.

So what went wrong? According to Latin NCAP, the bakkie, which is badged L200 in that market, was not fitted with any airbags whatsoever. In fact, the mystery shopper that bought the vehicle for crash testing was even told by a salesman that “airbags are not needed as the structure is robust”. But clearly, the crash test dummies don’t lie and the L200 with no airbags was deemed to have zero-star safety, while Latin NCAP also criticised the footwell structure.

Thankfully, this rating does not apply to South African-spec Mitsubishi Tritons as our models all ship with seven airbags, which means the Aussie and Euro crash test scores should be applicable to the local model. But the reason this crash test is relevant to us is that there are still numerous vehicles being sold in South Africa without any airbags (or ABS for that matter).

In fact, until fairly recently you could buy a workhorse-spec Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux without airbags, and there are still many others on the market without these devices, including the Isuzu KB and GWM Steed workhorse models, Hyundai’s H100 Bakkie and it’s Kia K2700 twin, Mahindra Bolero and lower-spec Pik-Up, the entire Changan range and Suzuki’s Super Carry.

Need more proof that airbags make a difference?

Consider that in Global NCAP’s various tests of Indian-market cars, the Volkswagen Polo and Tata Zest both went from zero-star to four-star ratings after the safety authority tested versions fitted with airbags, while the Honda Mobilio and previous-generation Renault Duster went from zero to three.

In fact there is a reason that airbags are mandatory in many countries, and probably about time that their fitment was legislated in South Africa too, along with ABS brakes.

IOL Motoring