Ford Innovates Inflatable Seatbelt

While airbag technology has made great strides in protecting front seat passengers, the people sitting in the back seat have relied solely on their standard seat belts to keep them safe in accidents. Ford is introducing a new safety technology that should reduce the risk of head or neck injury for back seat passengers without sacrificing comfort. Inflatable seat belts look and feel much like standard seat belts, but during an impact, they deploy a small air bag along the shoulder strap. Cars equipped with these belts are likely to benefit from lower car insurance rates.

Technology Combines Seat Belts and Air Bags

Ford is touting this new innovative safety device as a combination air bag and seat belt. The belts inflate when they are triggered by quick pressure, which is similar to the way dashboard air bags are triggered. Unlike the front air bags, these seat belt air bags deploy more gently. Passengers don’t experience the same explosive inflation that is notorious for causing burns and other injuries in front seat passengers after air bag deployment. The small cushion of air that surrounds the shoulder harness of the seat belt provides just enough give so that the passenger wearing the belt experiences less force when thrown forward during an accident.

More Protection for Back Seat Passengers

Most of the passengers who ride in the back seat are children and the elderly. These passengers tend to be more frail and prone to injury during even a minor accident. The addition of inflatable seat belts could provide better protection for the passengers who need it most. Since the inflatable portion of the seat belt is along the harness part of the mechanism, it shouldn’t interfere with standard car seats for infants. It’s not clear whether Ford plans to include a way to turn off the inflation feature if necessary.

Dealers Can Reset Inflatable Belts

Unlike traditional dashboard air bags, the inflatable seat belts can be reset after they are deployed. Car owners must take the seat belt to a certified dealer for the repair. Inflatable seat belts are only effective when they are returned to their factory standard. Using the seat belts after they have been inflated could be less safe than traveling with a standard traditional seat belt because the harness has a different structure to allow for the inflation mechanism. It is important for rear passenger safety that the seat belt air bags be reset as soon as possible after inflation.

Belts Expected to be More Widely Available Beginning in 2012

Right now, Ford only offers inflatable seat belts as optional safety equipment in the 2011 Explorer. The auto manufacturer intends to use the innovative seat belts in a wider range of vehicles during the next model year. This test period with the Explorers will give Ford a chance to make any necessary changes or improvements on the inflatable seat belt design before it becomes more widely available. The slow release of new technology also allows time for the company’s mechanics to learn how to replace or repair the mechanism properly.

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