Safety first: inflatable seat belt technology


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Safety first: inflatable seat belt technology

Inflatable seat belts have been included in a limited number of cars since 2011, and are set to become a more common feature in new cars just like air bags. They have the potential to lessen the severity of injury, and perhaps even save lives.

Inflatable seat belts have the potential to lessen the severity of injury, and perhaps even save lives.

In 2011, Ford became the first car manufacturer to offer fitted inflatable seat belts in the Ford Explorer SUVi. Other manufacturers like Mercedes Benz and Lexus soon followed suitii, with the inflatable seat belt set to become a widespread feature in passenger vehicles over the coming yearsiii. The award-winning technology behind the inflatable seat belt is sophisticated yet simple, and could potentially prevent common injuries resulting from car accidents, such as whiplash and broken ribsiii.

While inflatable seat belts are already available in a variety of models overseas, the Mercedes Benz S-Class is currently the only vehicle available in Australia to feature the beneficial new safety featureiii. In the coming months, the new Ford Mondeo will be released in Australia, also equipped with the technology of the inflatable seativ.

How does it work?

When the car's crash sensors detect a collision, the inflatable seatbelts are automatically deployed along with any air bags fitted in the vehicle. Unlike air bags, which are inflated via a heat-generating chemical reaction, the seat belt's in-built air bag is inflated through the buckle using compressed gas stored in a cylinder underneath the seativ. The bag is folded accordion-style within the seat belt, and breaks through the fabric as the bag is filled with airi.

Depending on the manufacturer, the seat belt will inflate to between three and five times its normal size in approximately 40 millisecondsi,ii. After the air bag in the seat belt has fully inflated, it remains in this state for several seconds before slowly letting air seep back outi.

The expanded belt helps spread the force of the crash over five times more area of the passenger's body than a traditional seat belt, reducing pressure on the chest and restricting the amount of head and neck motioni.

Depending on the manufacturer, the seat belt will inflate to between three and five times its normal size in approximately 40 milliseconds. Illustration adapted from Ford Motor Company, source V.

The inflatable seat belt has been designed with rear seat passengers in mind, in particular young children and the elderly who are more likely to suffer head, chest and neck injuries during car accidentsi.

It looks and feels much like a normal seat belt when in everyday use, could help reduce the likelihood and severity of common car crash injuries such as whiplash and broken bonesiii.

A survey of passengers who trialled the device showed that 90 per cent of participants felt the inflatable seat belt was similar or more comfortable to a normal seat belt due to the cushioning of the paddingv. Despite the addition of air bags to the seat belt's design, inflatable seat belts have been said to feel "no warmer on the wearer's body than the ambient temperature"vi.


iSprung, S, 7 September 2012, 'The Inflatable Seat Belt Will Save The Lives Of Backseat Passengers In Crashes', Business Insider Australia, viewed 20 June 2014,
http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-fords-inflatable-seatbelt-will-save-lives-2012-8

iiZalstein, D, 23 July 2012, 'Mercedes-Benz reveals inflatable seatbelt technology', Car Advice, viewed 20 June 2014,
http://www.caradvice.com.au/182799/mercedes-benz-inflatable-seatbelts-added-to-safety-technology-list/

iiiMotoring.com.au, 2 June 2014, 'Ford to make inflating seatbelts mainstream', viewed 20 June 2014,
http://www.motoring.com.au/news/ford/ford-to-make-inflating-seatbelts-mainstream-43841

ivMacRae, M, September 2011, 'Inflatable Seatbelts: The Forefront of Backseat Safety', ASME, viewed 20 June 2014,
https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/automotive/inflatable-seatbelts-the-forefront-of-backseat

vFord Australia, 13 August 2013, 'Ford Mondeo introduces inflatable seatbelts, a Ford first for Australian customers', viewed 20 June 2014,
https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia-mobile/fap/th/en/news/2013/08/13/ford-mondeo-introduces-inflatable-seatbelts--a-ford-first-for-au.html

viFord 2011, 'Rear inflatable seat belts', viewed 20 June 2014,
href="http://corporate.ford.com/doc/Comfort_and_Protection.pdf