There I was, riding shotgun in a car that had entered a terminal skid. When the trees and brush were flashing sideways in our headlights, just when we felt the front tires hit the ditch and explode, I remember thinking, “oh crap, this is gonna hurt!” The next instant, someone slapped my face, and that was that. I never lost consciousness but with that airbag suddenly billowing out at blinding speed, I never saw it coming, thought someone had reached in through the window to give me a firm smack.
The airbags deflate immediately, part of the cushioning process, good for mitigating trauma, not so good for situational awareness. Because the bags retreat so quickly, it takes a moment to realize they had deployed, and that realization may not come in time because in the aftermath of that airbag action, a white cloud smelling of hot plastic fills the car.
Of course, if you realize that the airbags had deployed, you might put two and two together and figure out that it’s the white talcum powder they sprinkle onto the bags when these are packed into tight-fitting compartments, to prevent the fabric from sticking together. If you don’t connect things to the airbags, if you see the white cloud as some other thing caused by the accident you’ve just survived, you’ll likely think of something lethal.
“It’s a fire! We’re on fire!” your mind may very well scream, right before you scramble out in panic. And that’s not always a smart move. What if you’re on a highway with other vehicles zipping past trying to avoid your wreck. You’d be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, figuratively speaking of course. But with everything you’ll be handling in superfast time—that white cloud, a hot plastic smell, and of course, a wrecked car—who could blame you?
So how about one simple change that could make things go very differently … how about a color for that talcum powder that doesn’t cause notions of smoke or of blunt force trauma? A white cloud looks like smoke, a red cloud, maybe like blood splatter. So, not white, not red, and not even pink for that matter. But what about green then, even blue? Point is, carmakers can look at coloring that talcum powder, making it look harmless, maybe even funny, when it billows and lingers in that cloud after the airbags deflate.