The industry’s first inflatable rear seatbelts—offered only on the new Ford Explorer—have been recognized with a prestigious “Breakthrough Product Award” by the editors of Popular Mechanics.
The seatbelts were initially made available on the 2011 Explorer and were designed to “combine the attributes of traditional seat belts and airbags to help provide an added level of crash safety protection for rear seat occupants,” according to Ford.
Here’s how the inflatable seatbelts work:
• The seatbelts act just like traditional occupant restraints in everyday use, often providing even more comfort due to their added padding.
• If the Explorer’s onboard suite of crash sensors identifies a crash situation, compressed cold air from a tank mounted below the back seats flows through a specially designed seatbelt buckle into the airbag unit.
• The airbag then breaks through the seatbelt fabric and expands to cover the passenger’s body.
As a result, crash-force energy is spread across five times more of a passenger’s body than is the case with standard seatbelts.
“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,” said Srini Sundararajan, lead developer on the inflatable seatbelt program and safety technical leader for Ford Research and Innovation. “I thank Popular Mechanics for recognizing the contributions of a number of dedicated engineers from Ford.”
In addition to gaining kudos from Popular Mechanics, the inflatable seatbelt system also is receiving much interest from parents. That’s because second-row passengers are often children who can greatly benefit from the added protection. In fact, Ford research indicates that about 40 percent of Explorer buyers are parents who are ordering the rear inflatable belts.
Drivers can expect Ford’s award-winning inflatable seatbelt system to migrate through the rest of the automaker’s lineup in the near future.
The annual Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards are now in their seventh year of honoring “innovators whose work will transform the world in years to come.”