Ford was recognized by Popular Mechanics for its industry-first inflatable rear seat belt, winning the magazine’s Breakthrough Product Award. Ford’s innovation incorporates airbag technology into the shoulder belt to reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear-seat occupants. Popular Mechanics selects products that are setting benchmarks in design and engineering for its Breakthrough Awards.
Available on the Ford Explorer, the inflatable rear seat belt operates like a conventional seat belt in everyday use. But in the event of a crash, the inflatable belt deploys over the passenger’s shoulder and torso to distribute the crash force over a wider area and to support the head and neck.
The inflatable rear seat belts are compatible with child safety seats and booster seats and Ford says the innovation is already popular among Explorer buyers who are parents.
While steering wheel- or dash-mounted airbags typically use a heat-generating chemical reaction, the inflatable belt is deployed using cold compressed gas. The airbag fills more slowly and at a lower pressure, since there is no space to fill between the airbag and the passenger. Still, the airbag deploys in just 40 milliseconds, the time it takes for a vehicle travelling at highway speeds to cover a yard.
“It’s a very simple and logical system, but it required extensive trial and error and testing over several years to prove out the technology and ensure precise reliable performance in a crash situation,” said Srini Sundararajan, lead developer of the project and safety technical leader for Ford Research and Innovation.
“Ford’s goal is to develop innovative safety technologies that give our customers more peace of mind, so it is a great honor to receive the Breakthrough Technology Award,” Sundararajan said, accepting the award for Ford.
Because use of these advanced seat belts is limited, no statistics are available on their effectiveness in real world use. But Ford says the new safety technology is in demand on the Explorer and is coming to other models. More widespread use in the future should help to provide an accurate assessment of inflatable rear seat belts’ benefit to rear-seat passengers.