German safety pioneer Mercedes-Benz will start fitting inflatable rear passenger seatbelts to its vehicles, in a move that will make the brand the third automaker to employ the safety technology behind Lexus and Ford.
Mercedes says the 'Beltbag' is due to go into production in a luxury-class model, set to be the next-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class as CarAdvice reported last month.
The seatbelt airbags are deployed when crash sensors detect a severe frontal impact, inflating the multi-layered belt strap to nearly three times its normal width. The larger surface area means better distribution of force, reducing the risk of injury to rear-seat passengers in a head-on collision by lessening the strain placed on the ribcage.
Mercedes worked intensely with virtual human models when developing the Beltbag, as crash dummy measurement technology was not capable of quantifying the benefits of having a wider belt strap surface area. Computer-generated models, however, made it possible to obtain detailed data on the biomechanical strain on occupants during a collision.
Mercedes is not planning to introduce the Beltbag for front seat occupants, citing the existing airbags and restraint systems already included in its cars.
Lexus debuted inflatable seatbelts in its LFA supercar in 2009 and began production of the technology in December 2010, while Ford was the first manufacturer to introduce inflatable seatbelts for rear passengers. The seatbelt airbags are available in the 2011 Ford Explorer in North America and will be included as an option in the next-generation Ford Mondeo, due to reach showrooms in Europe next year. The Ford Mondeo will make Ford the first manufacturer to offer seatbelt airbags in a mainstream car in Europe.