It may look like an airbag and function somewhat like an airbag, but Ford insists its latest safety innovation isn’t exactly an airbag. Instead, the company calls it an inflatable seatbelt — and it’s about to expand how many models are equipped with the protective feature.
Earlier this week, Ford announced it’s increasing the number of vehicles available with the feature, which first debuted in the 2011 Explorer. Beginning this summer, the Ford Flex will also be available with the inflatable belts, as well a number of unspecified Lincoln vehicles (we wouldn’t be surprised to see this pop up on the MKT, given it shares its architecture with both the Flex and Explorer).
“This 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,” Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, said in a prepared release.
The belts function like regular seat belts even when used with child safety seats. The airbag-equipped belts are designed to distribute crash force energy across a larger section of a person’s torso than a traditional belt, and they deploy during a frontal- or side-impact event. This helps diffuse crash pressure over a larger area while still supporting the occupant’s head and neck.
The seat belts use cold compressed gas instead of traditional airbag propellant in order to avoid burning passengers during deployment. Ford also claims that the inflatable seat belts also inflate slower than a traditional airbag, as they don’t need to stop the person from moving into another object, such as the dashboard or seatbacks. The seat belt is already restraining the rear seat passenger, so the inflatable portion allows the belt to work in a safer fashion.