GMC Sierra Owners Manual
How Does an Airbag Restrain?
In moderate to severe frontal or near frontal collisions, even belted occupants can contact the steering wheel or the instrument panel. In moderate to severe side collisions, even belted occupants can contact the inside of the vehicle.
Airbags supplement the protection provided by safety belts. Frontal airbags distribute the force of the impact more evenly over the occupant's upper body, stopping the occupant more gradually.
Seat-mounted side impact and roof-rail airbags distribute the force of the impact more evenly over the occupant's upper body.
Rollover capable roof-rail airbags are designed to help contain the head and chest of occupants in the outboard seating positions in the first and second rows. The rollover capable roof-rail airbags are designed to help reduce the risk of full or partial ejection in rollover events, although no system can prevent all such ejections.
But airbags would not help in many types of collisions, primarily because the occupant's motion is not toward those airbags. See When Should an Airbag Inflate? on page 3‑27 for more information.
Airbags should never be regarded as anything more than a supplement to safety belts.