Ford introduces inflatable seat belts
Ford Motor Company is bringing to market the world’s first automotive inflatable seat belts, combining attributes of traditional seat belts and air bags to provide an added level of crash safety protection for rear seat occupants.
Sensors determine the severity of the collision and deploy the inflatable belts’ tubular air bags in 40 milliseconds. The accordion-folded bags break through the belt fabric as they fills with air, expanding sideways across the occupant’s torso and shoulder in about the same amount of time it takes a car traveling at highway speed to cover a yard of distance. The bags inflate with cold compressed gas that flows through a specially designed buckle from a cylinder housed below the seat.
The use of cold compressed gas instead of a heat-generating chemical reaction – which is typical of traditional air bag systems – means the inflated belts feel no warmer on the wearer’s body than the ambient temperature. The inflatable belts also fill at a lower pressure and a slower rate than traditional air bags, because the device does not need to close a gap between the belt and the occupant.
The inflatable belts are designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers; often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries. In the event of a frontal or side crash, the inflatable belts’ increased diameter does a better job of holding the occupant in the appropriate seating position, helping to reduce the risk of injury.
The inflated belt helps distribute crash force energy across five times more of the occupant’s torso than a traditional belt, which expands its range of protection and reduces risk of injury by diffusing crash pressure over a larger area, while providing additional support to the head and neck. After deployment, the belt remains inflated for several seconds before dispersing its air through the pores of the air bag.
In everyday use, the inflatable belts operate like conventional seat belts and are safe and compatible with infant and children safety car and booster seats. In Ford’s research, more than 90% of those who tested the inflatable seat belts found them to be similar to or more comfortable than a conventional belt because they feel padded and softer. That comfort factor could help improve the 61% rear belt usage rate in the U.S., which compares to 82% usage by front seat passengers, according National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.
Ford will introduce inflatable rear seat belts on the next-generation Ford Explorer, which goes into production in 2010 for the North American market. Over time, Ford plans to offer the technology in vehicles globally.
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