After launching its industry-first rear inflatable seat belts on the new Ford Explorer, Ford Motor Company is now expanding availability to the Ford Flex and is set to arrive in dealer showrooms next summer.
“This advanced restraint system is 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,” said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. “Expanding the rollout of this technology is another example of Ford leading the way to enhance vehicle safety for our customers.”
The addition of the inflatable rear seat belts to Flex builds on the Top Safety Pick ratings the vehicle recently earned from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Ford plans to continue offering the inflatable belts affordably after launching them on the new Explorer.
Early data show approximately 40 percent of Explorer buyers are parents who are ordering the rear inflatable belts, said Amy Marentic, Car and Crossover Group marketing manager.
“The addition of inflatable belts enhances Ford’s well-earned reputation of adding technology that enables safety,” she said. “This is especially important to customers of products such as Explorer, which often serve large families who are looking for that extra peace of mind found in technology like inflatable belts.”
The inflatable belts were added this spring, bolstering Explorer’s already extensive suite of safety innovations. The vehicle already has seen strong demand from customers for its safety and driver-assist technologies.
Of the first 19,000 Explorer orders received:
•87 percent include rear view camera
•40 percent include BLIS® (Blind Spot Information System) with cross-traffic alert
•22 percent include adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, active park assist and rain-sensing wipers
Safe and comfortable
Advances in airbag inflation and seat belt construction methods have enabled Ford and its suppliers to develop inflatable seat belts that are designed to deploy over a vehicle occupant’s torso and shoulder in 40 milliseconds in the event of a crash.
In everyday use, the inflatable belts operate like conventional seat belts and are compatible with child safety seats. In Ford’s research, more than 90 percent of those who tested the inflatable 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 percent rear belt usage in the U.S., which compares to 82 percent usage by front seat passengers, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.
In the event of a frontal or side crash, the inflated belt helps distribute crash force energy across five times more of the occupant’s torso than a traditional belt. That expands its range of protection and helps reduce the 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 airbag.
“Ford’s rear inflatable seat belt technology will help to enhance safety for rear seat passengers of all ages, especially young children who are more vulnerable in crashes,” said Cischke. “This is another unique family technology that builds on our safety leadership, including the most top U.S. safety ratings of any automaker ever.”
Vehicle safety sensors determine the severity of the collision in the blink of an eye and deploy the inflatable belt’s airbag. Each belt’s tubular airbag inflates with cold compressed gas, which 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 airbag 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 airbags, because the device does not need to close a gap between the belt and the occupant. The inflatable belt’s accordion-folded bag breaks through the belt fabric as it fills with air, expanding sideways across the occupant’s body.
“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 Innovation.
Ford’s safety leadership record continues to grow
The inflatable seat belt continues Ford’s record of safety innovation and implementation in its wider product lineup. Ford also offers radar-enabled adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support and BLIS with cross-traffic alert in mainstream vehicles. These technologies – introduced in 2009 – assist drivers in avoiding potential dangerous crash situations using radar to detect the relative position of other vehicles and warn the driver with a combination of visual and audio alerts.
Ford’s other seat belt and airbag innovations include industry-first Belt-Minder® in 2000, which the U.S. government credited with increasing front belt usage by 5 percent in Ford vehicles. On the 2002 Ford Explorer, Ford launched the industry’s first rollover-activated side curtain airbags – called Safety Canopy® – as well as roll stability control technology that goes a step beyond traditional stability control systems by helping to detect and prevent side-to-side skidding and other situations that could lead to rollovers.
Ford also introduced on the 2009 Ford F-150 and 2010 Ford Taurus some of the industry’s first pressure-based airbag technologies that help deploy side airbags up to 30 percent faster.
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