Ford Motor Company has introduced a host of new safety features in recent years, and it showed most of them off at a recent event entitled the Future of Safety. During the nationwide campaign to display some of its advanced safety systems, Ford had a number of vehicles on hand to let consumers and journalists alike test out the new technologies first hand. The majority of the devices have been on the market for months, if not years, already, but one innovative new feature made a debut at the event - Ford's all-new inflatable rear seat belt.
The new inflatable seat belt will be introduced as an option on the 2011 Ford Explorer later this month, but it will eventually be available on other Ford models (including global vehicles) and could even become standard safety equipment down the road. Instead of a controlled chemical explosion that takes place in conventional airbags, the seat belt airbags are inflated using cold compressed air when a collision is detected. The compressed air comes from tanks mounted under the seats and provides less of an impact than a standard airbag despite deploying in just 40 milliseconds. The inflatable seat belts deploy in the event of frontal and side impacts, and help better position the occupants to help reduce injuries. Ford's representatives said that the company has spent about 10 years developing this technology.
'Ford's 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,'? said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environmental and Safety Engineering. 'This is another unique family technology that builds on our safety leadership, including the most top safety ratings of any automaker.'?
One unintended side effect of the inflatable belt is the added comfort associated with the deflated bag acting as cushioning. Ford hopes this will help more rear-seat passengers buckle up as it quotes data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which indicates that only 62 percent of rear passengers use their seatbelts compared to 81 percent for those sitting in the front seats. Once the inflatable seatbelt has deployed, the entire seatbelt assembly must be replaced - similar to an airbag - but it's not clear if the compressor system must be recharged. The estimated option cost for the inflatable rear seat belt is expected to be around $300 on the new Explorer although replacement costs were not discussed.
The demonstration area for the inflatable seat belts was a partial body shell of the all-new Explorer that had been cut in half to expose the second-row seats, but Ford also had a handful of cars available for driving tests of some of its other safety features. Other devices demonstrated at the event include the Ford MyKey, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and the Active Park Assist.
Standard on most Ford models, the Ford MyKey system is designed to act as a baby sitter for young drivers by making sure seatbelts are worn, the radio isn't too loud and the traction control stays on. Testing the system in the 2010 Ford Taurus, the car gives audible warnings if pre-set speeds are exceeded and the top speed can by limited to 80 miles per hour. If the driver's seatbelt isn't detected at speeds over 5 mph, another warning sounds and the audio system is muted until the driver buckles up. Ford's hope is that this system will help promote safer driving even
During the driver, the Taurus also showed how well BLIS works to check for cars hidden in the blind spots. If a car is detected, a yellow light illuminates on the corresponding door mirror, and if the driver activates the turn signal to indicate a lane change, the system will emit an audible warning for the driver. One of the cooler optional features of this system that wasn't equipped on this car was the Cross Traffic Alert which uses the same sensors to check for traffic approaching the sides of the vehicle while backing up from a parking space.
Finally, Ford had a 2010 Ford Flex on display to show off the easy parallel parking abilities of the Active Park Assist. With the system activated at the push of a button, the Flex was able to find an appropriately sized spot and steer the car into the spot automatically using the electric power assist steering (EPAS). The driver is still responsible for using the accelerator and brake as well as avoiding making contact with objects in front of or in back of the car, but it takes the guess work out of parallel parking. For safety measures, if the driver touches the steering wheel during the parking maneuvers, the system will cancel immediately.
While these systems won't be able to make drivers any better, the advanced new safety features being developed by Ford Motor Company should definitely help make the roads a little safer.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross