By Herb Shuldiner
Some 40 percent of new Ford Explorer buyers are ponying up an extra $200 for inflatable rear seat belts. That has encouraged Ford to expand availability of inflatable seat belts to the 2012 Flex. Later Ford will introduce inflatable belts to its luxury portfolio when two new Lincoln models will also offer this innovative safety feature.
Nearly 122,000 Explorers have been sold through November 30th. That would indicate close to 49,000 buyers have purchased the optional inflatable seat belts.
“The inflatable belts are proving to be very successful and take rates are increasing as people become more aware of them after being introduced in the spring,” says Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood.
“We do not yet have early quality data for them, but can say our research indicates that people not only like the innovative safety advancement but think the belts are more comfortable because they’re padded and have rounded edges,” he says.
“We think this could help encourage higher belt usage in rear seats, where the rates are much lower than the front,” Sherwood says.
Inflatable belts have been experimented with by automobile makers for at least three decades. But they have been confined to the laboratory for all that time. Perhaps Ford decided to offer them in the new generation Explorer because the preceding model had serious safety issues related to faulty tires.
The contribution inflatable belts make to occupant safety is the ability to spread crash forces over five times more area of the body than conventional seat belts. This reduces pressure on the chest and helps control head and neck motion for rear seat passengers. That means less pressure on internal organs and results in a higher survival rate.
Anything that encourages belt usage adds to passenger survivability in vehicle crashes. Rear seat occupants are frequently children and older adults whose bodies may be more fragile and could use extra cushioning that inflatable restraints offer. Front seat belt usage is 82 percent, while rear seat belt usage is 61 percent according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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