Honda Motorcyles to have airbags
TOKYO (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co. on Thursday unveiled the world's first airbag system to be mounted on a production model motorcycle, with plans to offer it on the new Gold Wing touring bike to hit U.S. showrooms next spring.
The airbag module is built in between the bike's handles and activates when four crash sensors detect a severe frontal collision, creating a buffer as the rider is flung forward on impact.
Honda (Research), Japan's third-biggest car manufacturer and the world's top motorcycle maker, said the airbag would significantly reduce fatalities and serious injuries, citing data which shows most harm occurs during frontal collisions.
Honda will eventually offer the airbag option in Europe and Japan, Operating Officer Suguru Kanazawa told a news conference. The company declined to say how much the add-on would cost.
The 1800cc Gold Wing is Honda's biggest motorcycle and starts at $18,600 in the United States. It sold 12,000 units in North America last year, 1,600 in Europe and 270 in Japan.
Officials said Honda aimed to offer the airbag on more motorcycles in future, but acknowledged a number of hurdles.
Because the airbag works by absorbing kinetic energy from the forward-flying rider, the motorcycle itself needs to be heavy enough not to tip over, otherwise the driver would be thrown over the deployed airbag.
The airbag also needs enough space to blow up safely in front of the rider, meaning the system can't be mounted on a sporty bike where the driver leans forward into the handle.
Still, Chief Engineer Satoshi Iijima said having the airbag could mean the difference between life and death. While the system works best in a straight-angle frontal collision at up to 50 km (31 miles) an hour, the airbag can slow down the rider being thrown off at twice the speed, causing only a minor injury in an accident that would otherwise result in death.
Honda is at the forefront of vehicle safety technology, offering Japan's first airbag in 1987 on the Legend high-end sedan. It began research and development on motorcycle airbags in 1990.
As part of its safety drive, Honda has also developed technology to warn motorcyclists of oncoming cars that are hidden from the rider's view, and headlight designs that help others on the road better gauge the distance from the motorcycle.
Those technologies are not yet available on production models.
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