Could Inflatable Rear Seatbelts Save More Passenger Lives?

Until recently, passengers riding in the back seat of a vehicle were more vulnerable to injury than those protected by front seat airbags. The obvious reason for this is that U.S. auto makers don’t offer back seat airbags in any of their newer vehicles, forcing people who sit in the rear to depend solely on standard seat belts for protection. Over the past few years, airbag technology has made enormous progress in keeping drivers and their front seat passengers safer in the event of an accident…and auto insurance companies took notice, as they usually do, when safety features save lives.

Now, a new technology has evolved in the automotive world, though on a limited basis, with the introduction of inflatable rear seat belts. The intent of this advanced safety feature is to reduce the risk of head, neck, and chest injuries for back seat passengers, who often happen to be children or older adults – without sacrificing comfort. While the inflatable belts have the look and feel of standard seat belts, the shoulder strap contains a small airbag. During a crash, sensors determine when the inflatable belt should deploy and signal the belt’s tubular airbag to rapidly inflate with compressed gas.

Unfortunately, only Ford currently offers rear inflatable seat belts, having originally introduced the innovative safety equipment on the 2011 Ford Explorer to little fanfare. However, the belts are now available on six Ford and Lincoln models: Ford Explorer, Fusion, Flex, Taurus as well as the Lincoln MKT and Lincoln MKZ. Though you may want to check with your auto insurer first, it’s likely that vehicles equipped with these new seat belts will be eligible for lower insurance rates.

One of the main advantages of inflatable seat belts is in the way they deploy, by spreading the pressure over a larger area to help distribute impact forces across more of a passenger’s torso – up to five times more – than traditional belts. In so doing, the pressure on the passenger’s chest is reduced, thereby, providing additional control of head and neck motion. Better yet, in everyday use, inflatable belts operate much like conventional safety belts, and are rated compatible with child car seats and boosters, making them ideal for family use.

Furthermore, while front air bags are triggered rather quickly, the inflatable seat belts deploy more gently and are more user-friendly in a serious collision. This, of course, is the opposite of dashboard and steering wheel air bags, which are released with almost explosive force, often subjecting front seat passengers to possible burns and other injuries during deployment.

Another difference associated with the inflatable seat belts is the fact that they can be reset after being deployed. Car owners can take their vehicle to a certified dealership for repair, where they must be returned to their factory setting. Keep in mind that delaying the resetting of the belts once inflated, can render them less safe than traditional belts due to the different structural design of the harness. As a result, in an accident, your back seat passengers could risk serious injury for which you would be responsible for. And, this is a risk you don’t want to take.

Having gotten past the initial test period, and with more Ford models being equipped with inflatable rear seat belts, it’s quite probable other auto manufacturers will follow Ford’s lead in the near future and start producing some of their own models with the new technology. Only time will tell.

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Would you purchase a vehicle with inflatable rear seat belts? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.