Ford’s belting new safety measure case of deja vu

From airbags to inflating seatbelts – Archant Anglia motoring editor Andy Russell says the Ford Mondeo is driving up safety.

Dr Srini Sundararajan, technical leader on the development of Ford’s inflatable seat belt system which is available in the new Mondeo.

Twenty-one years ago I was at the launch of the Ford Mondeo – its new world car that was leagues ahead of the Sierra it replaced and what rival car-makers were offering. The design got away from the ‘jelly-mould’ cars of the Eighties, the quality and look of the cabin heralded a new era for Ford interiors and it was a joy to drive. But the most memorable thing for me was it was the first car I drove with an airbag for in 1993, the Mondeo was the first car on sale with a driver’s airbag as standard.

Ford was so proud of the fact that it gave a static demonstration of an airbag going off – thankfully the only real-world airbag firing I have seen and I hope it stays that way. There was a bang, a flash of white fabric and a cloud of talcum powder – used to stop the airbag sticking to itself while packed into its housing. Ford was quick to stress it was not smoke and perfectly safe.

It started a revolution and now we take it for granted that airbags are part of a car’s safety package and not only expect front airbags but also side and curtain airbags. And more cars are now being fitted with an airbag to protect the driver’s knees in the event of a collision.

Now Ford is launching the fourth-generation Mondeo and there was a sense of deja vu at the media driving event to learn that the new car sees the European debut of its inflatable rear seatbelt which is designed to reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear-seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries. In an accident, the belt rapidly expands to disperse crash forces across a body area five times greater than a conventional seatbelt.

It’s a significant safety development to combine an airbag and a seatbelt but it’s a shame that it’s a £175 option on all models but inAmerica, where they were launched, 40% of buyers chose the option.

The inflatable belts operate like conventional ones and are safe and compatible with infant and child seats and, being padded and softer, are comfortable. When crash sensors detect an accident, compressed gas is forced out of a cylinder below the rear seat, through the buckle and into the belt which is fully deployed in less than 40 milliseconds for extra support.

Unlike airbags, which generate heat when deploying, Ford’s inflatable rear seatbelt expands using cold compressed gas.

Ford sees the Mondeo as a showroom halo model for its latest technology and this is another example of Ford leading the way in making driving and our lives safer.

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