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AutoBlog * November 9, 2009

DETROIT, MI -- They started out in our steering wheels before taking up residence across the dash. They then migrated to the side of our vehicles and grew to be full-sized curtains. Automakers seem to stick them everywhere, so where else can airbags go to protect our fleshy, organic bodies when metal meets metal in an accident? Ford has the answer: seatbelts.

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Today Ford is introducing the auto industry's first* inflatable seat belts, which are scheduled to enter production in 2010 on the next-generation Ford Explorer before being offered across its global lineup. They're designed for rear-seat occupants only (front passengers already have a plethora of airbags) and, in the event of a frontal or side impact, will inflate the belt across a passenger's chest in 40 milliseconds. When expanded, the belt cover five times more surface area of the body than a normal seat belt, which helps better distribute the forces of a crash.

The mechanics of Ford's inflatable belt system use cold compressed gas to inflate the bags, unlike traditional airbags that rely on a heat-generating chemical reaction. The seat belt bags also inflate slower and to a lower pressure than a traditional airbag, mainly because they don't have to cover the distance between the passenger and an object (steering wheel, dash).

This isn't the first time we've heard about Ford's inflatable seat belts. The automaker has been working on the idea for several years and revealed their intentions right before the 2006 Detroit Auto Show. Fortunately, Ford may not be the first to market with the idea. The Lexus LFA, also set to enter production next year, features an SRS seatbelt airbag as well. We don't know if the next-gen Explorer will beat the LFA to dealer showrooms yet, but Ford can at least take pride in knowing that its technology will be protecting more than just 500 lives.

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