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Inflatable seat belts in new Fords

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Ford's next-generation Explorer car will include inflatable seat belts when it goes into production next year for North America.

The move will make Ford the first manufacturer to include the technology in its cars. It plans to offer the new seat belts in vehicles across the world at a later stage.

It will combine the uses of traditional seat belts and air bags to increase the level of crash protection for rear-seat passengers. Designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries, it aims to raise safety levels for children and older passengers who have greater chances of injuring those areas.

Within 40 milliseconds of a crash, the seat belts will spread over a passenger's torso and shoulder. It helps reduce the risk of injury by holding the occupant in the appropriate seating position better with its increased diameter.

The inflatable device analyses the severity of the crash using vehicle safety sensors and deploys its tubular air bags. A cylinder below the seat inflates the bag with cold compressed gas through a specially designed buckle.

Crash force energy is thus distributed across five times more of the occupant's torso than a traditional belt.

© Press Association 2009