Andrew Traub

Ford has developed an inflatable seat belt

People riding in the back seat of a vehicle are less likely to use a seat belt than front-seat passengers. Ford is hoping to change that with its new inflatable seat belt.

Their inflatables will first be offered on the next generation of the Ford Explorer. Sue Cischke, group vice president of sustainability, environmental and safety engineering, says those who have sampled them say inflatable belts feel less rigid and more comfortable.

Seat-belt use is about 10 percent lower for rear-seat passengers than front-seat passengers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Ford has been working on the inflatable since it was first shown as a concept in 2001. At the time, people were saying it couldn’t be done, while tests they were doing showed that it would be possible to do.

Among the technical problems, rear belts had to be much gentler than front air bags, which inflate with enough force to break out the instrument panel, then they release hot gas as they deflate. The new belts inflate with less force and deflate with cool gas, making them safer for passengers of all sizes.

The development team tested the belts when used with car seats, booster seats with high backs and booster seats with low backs. If the seat belt is not buckled, the system will not go off.

Ford says back-seat riders are often elderly and children. They believe this is the best way to enhance their safety.

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