Next time you stick grandma in the backseat of your 2011 Ford Explorer, take comfort in the fact that she might be saved in a crash by an inflatable seat belt that spreads the force of impact over five times more body area than a normal seat belt.
We had a chance to test the inflatable seat belt, first announced last year, at a dealership in San Francisco. The belt would deploy quickly in a real crash, but our test model inflated slowly and felt both snug and comfortable when fully released. The undeployed seat belt also felt significantly more padded than a traditional belt.
A Ford representative explained to us that the seat belt inflates with cold compressed gas piped in from a cylinder below the seat. The sideways-expanding seat belt deploys with a lower impact than front seat airbags--all the better to protect the bones of children and seniors. Once a seat belt has been inflated, the vehicle has to be taken back to the dealer so that the belt can be reset.
The inflatable seat belt will be available as an option on the 2011 Explorer, set to be released this summer, for approximately $200 to $300. Check out our video of the seat belt in action below.