Ford Inflatable Seat Belt Could Reduce Crash Injuries‎ [w/VIDEO] image

Ford Motor Co. unveiled the industry’s first inflatable seat belt, a combination belt and airbag designed to reduce crash injuries for rear-seat passengers, especially the young and elderly.

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.

Ford will introduce inflatable rear seat belts on the next-generation Ford Explorer, which goes into production next year for the North American market. Over time, Ford plans to offer the technology in vehicles globally.

“Ford’s rear inflatable seat belt technology will enhance safety for rear-seat passengers of all ages, especially for young children who are more vulnerable in crashes,” said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environmental and Safety Engineering. “This is another unique family technology that builds on our safety leadership, including the most top safety ratings of any automaker.”

Ford officials declined to say how much the safety-belt air bag would cost, but confirmed it would be priced lower than Ford’s popular $395 Sync voice-activated phone and entertainment system.

“They are bringing safety features you wouldn’t expect in more mainstream cars,” said Jake Fisher, senior automotive engineer at Consumer Reports magazine. “What Ford is doing is pushing that technology down so you don’t have to spend $50,000 on a Mercedes Benz.”

The mini-airbag technology has long been in the works—Ford first showed off a concept version in 2001—but officials at the auto maker said that finding the right place to install the system was key. Engineers on the project said trouble in finding the right supplier also delayed the company’s efforts, but a Ford spokesman declined to identify the suppliers involved.

Ford also introduced on the 2009 F-150 and 2010 Taurus some of the industry’s first pressure-based air bag technologies that help deploy side air bags up to 30 percent faster.