Times are tough for the automotive industry. Consumers have less money, the environment has less tolerance and nothing short of new engineering paradigms can fix any of it. You know, stuff like inflatable rear seatbelts.
The next-generation Ford Explorer will come with rear seatbelts that inflate in an accident, just like an airbag. But the intent isn't to absorb a body hurling through the car, softening the blow into a seat or steering wheel. Instead, the airbag simply multiplies the surface area of the belt against your body during an impact by five times.
It makes crashes more comfortable on the body, reducing "head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries," according to Ford. I can't argue with that lest I sound like I hate humanity (which I do, but kids and old people are OK with me). However, I CAN argue with their second point:
Ford claims that, since these belts are naturally more comfortable in trials, they should have a positive impact on the low 61 percent rear belt usage rate in the US.
If all we need is a softer seatbelt to fix that stat, I have a feeling that can be accomplished for a lot less than America will spend on 60-millisecond-deploying seatbelt airbags. [Ford]
* Also of note, any child that's still smiling in panels 2 and 3 is too heavily medicated.