In an attempt to help reduce the potential for serious injury to rear-seat passengers, Ford Motor Company has announced that its upcoming 2011 Ford Explorer will be equipped with the industry's first inflatable rear belts. Ford data indicates this technology allows impact forces to be distributed across five times as large an area of the passenger's torso as a conventional belt and also provides additional support for the head and neck. The automaker intends to introduce these new rear belts on a global basis in the years ahead. According to Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environmental and Safety Engineering, "the rear inflatable seat belt technology will enhance safety for rear-seat passengers of all ages, especially for young children who are more vulnerable in crashes." In addition to being fully compatible with both child safety seats and booster seats, the inflatable belts also were judged as being even more comfortable than their conventional counterparts by most individuals who evaluated them.
Like standard airbags, these blow-up rear belts are linked into the vehicle's safety sensor array. Once an impact is determined to be of sufficient severity, the inflatable element -- which is folded away accordion-styled -- breaks through the belt fabric and fully deploys in just 40 milliseconds, about the time it takes a vehicle traveling at highway speeds to move three feet. Unlike a normal airbag, the inflation is accomplished using cold compressed gas which flows through a unique buckle from a cylinder housed below the seat. This eliminates the heat generated by the conventional chemical reaction, and allows the element to remains at ambient temperature. It also allows it to inflate more slowly and at lower pressure than an airbag, since it's already in contact with the wearer's body. After deployment, the belt bag remains inflated for several seconds before venting its contents to the atmosphere.
"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, safety technical leader for Ford research and advance engineering.