Airbags on US police cars

Given that criminals cars are often rammed, do US cops have airbags disabled in their cars. Or are the speeds of impact low enough not to trigger airbags? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one inflate on a US cop car on TV, or any other police force for that matter.

Good question. You ask if the cars have the airbags disabled, though…my guess is that there are no airbags installed.

Not sure if the factory just does not install them, or if they are disabled later, but one definitely does not want working airbags in his cruiser. There is a lot of computer and radio equipment that could become very harmful to the occupants if an airbag went off.

Also, though less of an issue than dashboard obstructions, officers (especially large ones) are pressed close to the steering wheel because the cage in the back forces the seats to be scooted forward. One can’t recline or slide the seat back to where it would be comfortable.

Police forces usually order cars directly from manufacturers don’t they? If they did it would certainly be on the options list whether or not to have an airbag.

Simple question, one easily answered by a quick stroll down to the local police station and asking the desk Sergeant.

The Marysville, California patrol vehicles have dual front airbags. and so do the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department vehicles. I haven’t checked with the California Highway Patrol as they’re in the next town over. I may check after lunch.

Looking in the units, the internal equipment is clear of the airbags, so they’re not in the way of an airbag deployment. I’ve also seen deployed airbags in police cars in episodes of Cops, so they apparently work.

Not knowing how airbags are triggered, I can’t say for certain whether the police P.I.T. maneuver would set them off. Hopefully the CHP can answer that question.


I just happen to have a reserve cop right here. He says, altho the cops don’t like airbags, the cars they have come with them. Here they buy their cars off of “state contract” and they come as standard cop-car equipment. YMMV.

My company sold some cars to the California Highway Patrol. These cars had:
[li]Driver’s side air bag[/li][li]Passenger’s side air bag[/li][li]Air bags for side inpact in each front seat[/li][li]Pyrotechnic front seat belt pretensioners[/li][/ul]

Same as the cars you and I would buy at a dealership.

A pit maneuver is not a head on impact. The officer nudges the bad guys car sideways with the front fender of his patrol car. Example:
Bad guy is in a right hand turn. Officer pulls to the inside of the bad guy’s right rear fender. (cars overlap by about a foot) officer steers to the left, left front corner of patrol car hits right rear fender of BG’s car. BG’s car looses traction in rear and spins. Patrol car pins BG’s car.
This type of move will not deploy the airbags for a couple of reasons. First, the impact is not hard enough, and secondly it is not a frontal impact, but rather a side impact. Front airbags are not designed to deploy in a side impact.

As Rick said, in the PIT maneuver, you are NOT supposed to hit hard enough to disable your own police car. You should be able to continue to pursue the bad guys if they manage to recover and continue fleeing. It can often take several tries before a PIT maneuver gets them stopped.

Also, a friend who worked at a city garage said that they used to adjust the police car air bags to make them “less sensitive”, so they would be less likely to inflate on small collisions, but still work on a major one. But he said that’s harder to do nowdays, with the new electronic controls on air bag triggers. And I got the definate impression that this was an ‘unofficial’ bit of tuning they did, not something listed as a standard practice.

standard factory equipment:

I am not familar with the airbag controls on a Crown Vicky (most of the police car market), but every air bag system I have ever seen uses an electronic control unit with the deployment thresholds predetermined by the programing. So I am tempted to call bullshit on this statement.
But as I said, I am not an expert on Crown Vicky systems, so maybe it is possible. But I would take that statement with a couple pounds of salt if I were you.

As others have posted, police cars do indeed have airbags.

Airbags deploy using information from multiple accelerometers. I’m familiar with GM cars which use 3 accelerometers. 2 of the accelerometers have to indicate a crash for the airbags to deploy. The force to deploy is equivalent to hitting a solid object head-on at approximately 14 mph. A PIT maneuver will not deploy the airbags.

Some crooks have gotten in the habit of “air-bagging” a pursuit vehicle. They slow down until the police car is close behind them and then slam on their brakes. The idea is that the police car hitting the perp car will set off the airbags. Don’t know how successfull this technique is as the crash has to be fairly severe for them to deploy.



Are there any safety features in the back of a police car, where the bad guys, once caught, are put? I’ve not yet had the privilage of riding back there, but that divider between front and back seats looks hard. Are there at least seatbelts? And how would one’s hands being cuffed behind their back effect a seatbelt in a crash?


Probably no more than in the backseat of any regular car.

I’ve seen on COPS & other TV shows where they seem to always put the seat belt on the arrested person in the back seat before they drive off to the jail. But they are still usually handcuffed with their hands behind them, so a severe accident could possibly injure their arms, etc. Still, the back seat is probably safer than the front, with the steering wheel & all that radio eqpt, etc. there to hit.