Advances in air bag inflation and construction methods have allowed engineers to develop an inflatable bag that can deploy from within a shoulder belt in the event of a crash. This tubular air bag would cover virtually the entire area where the shoulder belt makes contact with the torso.
Inflating the area alongside the torso belt could provide many of the same benefits as pretensioner devices - tightening the belt-to-chest contact before crash forces are transmitted, positioning the person in more favourable relation to other safety devices in the vehicle.
The pillow-like cushion across the shoulder and upper chest is designed to help limit "whipping" forces on the head. The broader contact area of the inflatable safety belt also has the potential to spread impact forces across the chest, reducing the chances of injury.
"While this technology is still under development by Ford and would face extensive crash testing and analysis to fine tune its deployment characteristics, it appears to offer promise along many fronts," says Priya Prasad of the Ford Research Laboratory.