Improved restraint system uses inflatable seatbelt

June 27, 2012 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
A combination of airbag and seatbelt, the inflatable belt can improve occupant safety - in particular for children and elderly people. Through the inflatable seatbelt, the deceleration forces in an accident are distributed more evenly to a much larger part of the body, effectively reducing force peaks. Ford has announced to introduce the safety system - as the first OEM on the European market.

Beginning next year, Ford will offer the inflatable seatbelt for the rear seats in its Mondeo model. In the case of an accident, the belt is filled with air within the fraction of a second. Thus, the deceleration forces are distributed over an area five times larger than with conventional seatbelts. The effect: The forces per area are reduced which prevents injuries. According to Ford restraint systems design engineer Jörg Döring, the new system has been tested with crashtest dummies of all sizes and types. In all cases the tests proved that the inflatable seatbelt significantly reduces the likelihood of an injury in an accident. The inflatable seatbelt protects in particular head, chest and neck.

The ignition of the inflatable seatbelt is controlled by the Restraint Control Module (RCM) which also is responsible for the pretensioner. Both functions - seat belt pretensioner and seat belt inflation - are triggered in the same moment. In contrast to the conventional airbag - which remains unchanged as part of the safety equipment - the seatbelt is inflated slightly slower to prevent injuries induced by the system. Nevertheless, the belt is inflated in less than 40 milliseconds. In contrast to normal airbags however, the gas remains cold during the process, no heat is developed.

During the daily use, the new safety belt offers the sale comfort as conventional belts. In combination with infant and child seats they offer comparable features. More than 90 percent of the persons testing the inflatable belt found them at least as convenient as a standard belt or even more comfortable.

The inflatable seatbelt is already in use in the 2011 version of the Ford Explorer. The system is offered as an option and enjoys rather high popularity: According to Ford, 40 percent of the car buyers ordered the safety add-on.