By on November 6, 2009

Your seatbelt may be used as a flotation device

Media outlets around the globe are regurgitating Ford’s Press Release on its latest safety gizmo: Rear seat air bag seatbelts. Next year’s redesigned Explorer gets the optional new belts first with worldwide rollout expected someday. According to Ford, its all about the children: “The 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.” However, don’t expect moms to flock back to Explorers thanks to the availability of yet another set of air bags. CarMax put out a release recently on their research into women’s car buying priorities. Safety features came in fifth place as mothers’ primary reasons to buy. Price, reliability, fuel economy and spaciousness all beat out safety as the mom’s hot button issues. It doesn’t look like yet more airbags is going to be the thing to get the Explorer back in the hunt.

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47 Comments on “Ford’s Inflatable Seatbelts: Progress or a Bridge Too Far?...”


  • avatar
    RayH

    A commercial showing the belt airbag in action with an uninjured dummy-child the result could be effective, providing they show a competitor vehicle injuring/killing a dummy-child. “Why don’t YOU love your child?”

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I read about this in my local newspaper this morning and I think it is the dumbest idea I have heard in auto safety technology yet. Enough with the friggin’ airbags already!! If we put half the amount of effort and $$$ into avoiding crashes instead of trying to survive them we’d be much, much safer at a much lower cost.

    Seat belts, with their natural tendency to wear, get stained with Lord knows what; get caught in doors, folding seats, etc. get things dropped on them; etc. provide a great opportunity for the enclosed airbag to expose’ right into little Johnny’s face. Imagine the cost to replace it…. (not the face)

    Way over the top and not in a good way.

  • avatar
    spyspeed

    Next year, progress will be defined as break-away floormats.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I wouldn’t use that seatbealt with my son.

    See how it touches the neck of the dummy.

    Or is me that don’t understand how it works.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    @Author
    I don’t think the point is to sell more explorers, but to get this available into their full line. It could be one of those features that might tilt a car purchase from a competitor to Ford. Not necessarily to the Explorer.

    I think it would be good to see the stats on how well this device works. It might be standard on all cars within the next 5-7 years.

  • avatar
    jmo

    get caught in doors, folding seats, etc. get things dropped on them; etc. provide a great opportunity for the enclosed airbag to expose’ right into little Johnny’s face.

    Have you ever heard of an uncommanded airbag deployment? I certainly haven’t.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Think people in the back seat buckled in are not dieing in crashes? Think again. This was driven too close to home several years ago when all three in back died. Full-size vehicle with no intrusion in the back.

    All dead.

    Like others, I’d like to see a substantial improvement in back seat safety.

  • avatar
    rnc

    This is perhaps an airbag to far, but for alot of people safety does sell (there is a reason Volvo was so popular), it’s an optional feature for a vehicle that earned a reputation for non-safety towards the end of its 1st run, probably not a bad idea.

    Plus if it takes off they will receive the royalties when other carmakers implement.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I wouldn’t be in a hurry to dismiss this innovation.

    Seatbelt-mounted airbags are being developed for passenger aircraft. There are advantages that are just as valid for cars, schoolbuses etc.

    One advantage is that it’s easy to install in vehicles lacking airbags in places such as the backs of the front seats. Indeed, the repair/replacement cost will be far less than airbags that destroy seats when they deploy. This extends to front seat airbags, which destroy steering wheels and very costly dashboards. Far fewer vehicles would need to be written off after crashes.

    Second, seatbelt airbags can be retrofitted into any vehicle that lacks them, in any seating position. I’d love to get a set for our 1990 sedan.

    Third, if you think about it for a split second, there are physical advantages to an airbag inflating AWAY from the occupant, rather than toward them.

  • avatar
    jamie1

    John,

    You are right that safety comes fifth in the list of things that are important – a great many consumers take safety as read in modern cars which is as it should be and a good thing. But something that only increases safety for the rear passengers has to be welcomed given that we frequently place the people we care most about in the back seats.

    The belts will be priced around the price of SYNC, so people will have a simple choice and one that is not that expensive.

    Kind regards,

    Jay Ward
    Ford Communications

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    Both Ford and Lexus are introducing this safety feature. With no access to their safety engineering test data, I don’t know how any of us can possibly assess the validity of their safety claims.

  • avatar
    Gregg

    @Stingray

    I heard someone on the teevee explain that. It is supposed to be exactly there. Keeps the head from whiplashing and the neck injury that results as the chin plants in the chest.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Jamie1,
    Thanks for coming on the site and updating us. I for one put safety at the top of the list, and if it was a tossup between 2 vehicles, these belts could very well sway me. And if that meant I bought a Ford product, that’s fine.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Have you ever heard of an uncommanded airbag deployment? I certainly haven’t.”

    jmo:

    No, but I’ve never heard of an airbag in something that flops around like a seatbelt either.

  • avatar
    4runner

    Jay Ward –

    Safety always sells. Keep up the good work. I would make this a standard feature in all Fords ASAP and then hammer it home with some solid marketing. Don’t get beaten to the punch, as Ford was beaten by Honda and Hyundai with making side curtain airbags standard on all vehicles.

    John

  • avatar

    As a parent, I’m not dismissing these, but I’d need to know more about how well they work. And not from Ford. But with kids, safety is one of the must haves for us (even if it’s #3 on our list).

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @jmo:
    Have you ever heard of an uncommanded airbag deployment? I certainly haven’t.

    You’re joking…right?

  • avatar

    Bring it on. I like the direction that Honda and now Ford have taken with their initiatives to make their cars as safe as possible from top-to-bottom.

    I can’t control the other cars on the road, but I can control how safely I drive, and the safety equipment that my car has.

    I’d much rather be in a car that protects me than hope that the money spent on “accident prevention” (rpol35) actually works. The only method of accident prevention I can think of is revoking licenses left and right, or not giving them out as haphazardly as the US of A does currently. Fewer licensed drivers leads to fewer car buyers leads to reduced sales, and I’m pretty sure a certain lobby wouldn’t let that happen at any level.

  • avatar
    skandar

    These airbags seem to be the same type that have been used in single engine aircraft for at least 5 years. Cessna and Diamond install these, and I have two on the front seat belts of my DA40. I’ve never heard of an improper deployment yet. I think that they are a great idea. They are a little bulk but you don’t notice the bulk after a few minutes.

  • avatar

    Reactive Armour would be nice for boobooz on board set.

  • avatar
    xyzzy

    @skandar — I noticed that too, I wonder if these airbags are from the same vendor that Cessna and Diamond use (AmSafe, I believe?). If so you can bet that the auto versions are about 1/5 the price of the aero versions and of course not legal to install in your plane, even if they are identical in every way except the certification.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    My younger son chewed part way through his rear seat belt; wonder what that would do to the airbag?

  • avatar
    skandar

    I doubt AmSafe is involved because they don’t have an announcement on their website. Maybe they licensed some patents. Ha, 1/5th the price would probably be too high for the auto industry. I think the AmSafe option on my plane was over $2,000 for two seatbelts.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I think Ford is targeting the new Explorer since it will be a new platform, family-oriented (without the Flex shape), and high cargo capacity. I’m excited about the ecoboost-4 cyl…. if they could keep the price of entry to decently equipped for under $30k, they’ll have a winner.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Paul,
    Chewing through one of these probably has the same impact as mixing Pop Rocks with Pepsi.

  • avatar

    Yep. Sure death in Viet-Snopes

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    These are great and stupendous things. However, as a stop gap measure, we also need to mandate safety helmets for all kids in cars.

    There are a probably millions of people who don’t hate their kids who cannot afford new Fords with these great, stupendous airbags. However, non kid haters could more easily afford helmets for their kids.

    The feds could even hand out coupons – like they did when over the air TV went digital…

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Soon the whole vehicle will be an airbag.

  • avatar
    lahru

    So based upon most of the comments I’ve read here the the most unsafe vehicle is what you favor?

    If these belts save lives, or prevent bruising in an accident they have no value?

    Frankly, I want a seat belt with sharp edges?

    You?

  • avatar
    50merc

    It’s said Ford is working feverishly to extend the concept. For children, the new airbag belts will come in bright colors. When one deployes the child will exclaim in delight, “It’s a giraffe!”

    Mercedes is reportedly developing a version of the airbag belt that resembles a string of sausages. Presumably this is intended for only the German domestic market.

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    Imagine your child, your pride and joy, sound asleep in the backseat of your vehicle.

    With heads leaning against the seatbelt for support.

    Imagine the seatbelt deploying right in their face.

    Talk about facepalm to the extreme. Heads will roll in this one, literally.

    You know what’s a good idea? airbag located behind the front headrests, and deploys to protect the whole front side of your backseat passengers. Not just a diagonal bar of bubble that still direct passengers to throw themselves to the center of the car and smash into eachother / break their spines.

  • avatar
    jmo

    You’re joking…right?

    Nope, never heard of one. Have you? Do you have a link?

  • avatar
    jmo

    Just checked google – no hits.

    Your turn.

  • avatar
    jmo

    With heads leaning against the seatbelt for support.

    I’m sure that never came up during the thousands of hours of testing.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    It seems like a gimmick to me. More for sales than for safety. How many injuries will they prevent? There’s no way to know.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    JMO, it looks like you’re doing it wrong. I get lots of hits.

    Here’s a gem. Here’s another. Mouse around in the hit list linked above and you’ll find more.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Lexus has only shown these on their LF-A ultra limited production supercar.

    Welcome Jay Ward. It is great to have an automaker’s perspective included directly in these discussions. Thanks for chiming in!

    My two big questions for the next gen Explorer are:

    1) Is the Explorer brand so associated with the busted SUV boom as to be an anachronism?

    and

    2) If the new Explorer is really a crossover, then why so many entries into almost exactly the same market space? What does the new Explorer do for a buyer than the Flex doesn’t do?

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    @ ToyMaker

    I wondered about this also, but luckily I have the power of Google on my side – not sure how you missed it. Anyway, the scenario you mention has been addressed through testing. Please click the link and scroll about half way down for the details.

    http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=31372

    • 0 avatar
      Toy Maker

      Ah, good find!
      I found the Ford airbag video on youtube, with the dummies in a nice seating position.
      But I guess this wouldn’t be anymore dangerous than strapped in with a traditional seabelt. So it’s a good thing.

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    As someone who worked for several years on seat belt and air bag systems, I have three comments:

    (1) Wear your safety belt! See item #2.

    (2) Anything that makes a car more safe and protects passengers in a crash is welcome. Watch enough crash test videos at 35 mph and you start ordering every safety feature when you think about an impact at 65 or 70mph.

    (3) This idea has been kicking around Ford for a long time, and there’s a reason it was never implemented before now. I think it has to do with the lack of incremental value. It’s a nice concept, but if you had to rate it on a percentage basis of how much less likely the occupant is going to be injured by having this feature installed, I’m guessing 1% would be a stretch.

    However, I won’t hold it against them since I know of all the advanced safety features Ford doesn’t advertise that do significantly increase chance of survival and reduce risk of injury: Dual stage air bags, seat belt pretensioners, adaptive load limiters, digressive load limiters, anti-dumping D-rings, and the myriad of out of position tests.

    At least Ford is finally using some of the massive safety investment to push product out the door.

    IMO, this presentation is what Ford should be using to educate the general public on all the work they have put into safety:

    http://brpadvancedairbags.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/04/clark.pdf

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    I think this article misses the point about engineering progress. If this is something that could honestly save lives, shouldn’t that be considered more important than consumer preference reports? In the end Ford putting its engineers to work on something worth-while is going to create more real benefit to the company than ordering them to find a way to fit twenty more cupholders in an suv.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    joe_thousandaire +1

    Some people never want today’s progress, they can only accept innovations that are at least ten years old. Very bizarre

  • avatar
    jamie1

    1) Is the Explorer brand so associated with the busted SUV boom as to be an anachronism?

    and

    2) If the new Explorer is really a crossover, then why so many entries into almost exactly the same market space? What does the new Explorer do for a buyer than the Flex doesn’t do?

    John Horner,

    Thank you for your kind words. Obviously, there is a limit to what we can say about the new Explorer at this stage but I can address some of your concerns.

    We have done a lot of research in the last 2 years about naming for the new Explorer. Interestingly (and this was a surprise to us as well) there is a lot of strong brand equity in the Explorer name. When asked to come up with words that they associate Explorer with, customers and non-customers used a variety of words, but very few of them were in any way negative.

    Instead, what we found was that customers love their SUV’s but were put off by two main issues:
    1) Fuel Economy
    2) Driving Dynamics (the SUV issue)

    Can’t say too much, but clearly we have announced EcoBoost to address the first issue and moving to a unibody construction greatly aids the second.

    However, we will continue to market this as an SUV as this is what our customers (both current and prospective) have said that they want.

    When you see and understand more about the new Explorer, you will see that it will attract different customers than the Flex. At the end of the day, it will come to to a matter of choice. We are trying to give customers as much choice as we can whilst being prudent in our offerings where appropriate.

    I hope this in some way answers your questions.

    Kind regards,
    Jay Ward

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Kid-sized race harness and competition fitted seats would do away with this problem.

    No better protection in any roll-over SUV.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “When you see and understand more about the new Explorer, you will see that it will attract different customers than the Flex. At the end of the day, it will come to to a matter of choice. We are trying to give customers as much choice as we can whilst being prudent in our offerings where appropriate.”

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like Explorer and Flex will share the same platform, be about the same size, be similarly priced and will be in the same showrooms; but with different target customers. That strategy has a very mixed track record.

    The differences had better be much more substantial than the target customer profile, advertising and branding charades companies often try in these circumstances.

    I will say that my friends who own current generation Explorers love the vehicle. But to keep them happy, the new one had better be able to pull a small horse trailer as well as the existing Explorer.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    joe_thousandaire : I understand your point, and personally agree that engineering progress is a good thing. Looked at another way, you could read my opening bit here as a dig at the moms CarMax surveyed.

    It will be very interesting to see what the take rate is on this optional new belt. Since it will be an option, hopefully Ford will make it widely available on all trim levels instead of trying to use it as a lever to get customers to buy up into the highest trim level vehicles. Auto makers have often played that game.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Telegraph Road :

    “Both Ford and Lexus are introducing this safety feature. With no access to their safety engineering test data, I don’t know how any of us can possibly assess the validity of their safety claims.”

    Welcome to Al Gore’s Internet. If only the automotive OEMs had the wit to hire TTAC’s commentators they wouldn’t need computers or fancy test circuits and labs.


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