Occupant Protection Technologies

Many factors influence a vehicle’s crash performance, including the design of the vehicle’s structure to absorb impact energy and the use of passive safety equipment such as air bags and safety belts. To help protect drivers and passengers in the event of a crash, a variety of Ford technologies have been designed to enhance the performance of safety belts and air bags and provide additional occupant protection in side crashes and rollovers.

The next-generation Ford Focus, which went on sale in North America and Europe in early 2011, features a new standard driver-side air bag. The new air bag, which will be used on other future Ford models as well, is designed to further reduce loading on the driver’s chest. It uses a curved tether, which resembles a smile when inflated. The new air bag was designed to address new, more stringent federal regulations and five-star New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) requirements, which were directly influenced, in part, by Ford’s biomechanical research. The new NCAP uses a mathematical equation published by Ford researchers to estimate the probability of crash-related chest injuries, depending on age and chest deflection. Accordingly, lower chest deflections will be rewarded in the revised star-rating system.

Older drivers, in particular, can benefit from the air bag’s redesign, because they are more susceptible to rib injuries due to weaker bones. According to Ford safety researchers, the typical 65-year-old has one-quarter the ability of a 16-year-old to withstand crash-related forces on their chest during a forward collision.

Safety belts remain the most important vehicle safety technology available. For the 2011 model year, Ford brought to market the world’s first automotive inflatable safety belts – a brand-new technology that won Popular Science magazine’s “Best of What’s New” award in late 2010. These belts combine the attributes of traditional safety belt and air bag technologies to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear-seat passengers. Ford introduced the inflatable rear safety belts on the new 2011 Ford Explorer in North America.

The inflatable belts are designed to deploy over a vehicle occupant’s torso and shoulder in less than 40 milliseconds in the event of a crash. Each belt’s tubular air bag inflates with cold compressed gas. The inflatable belt distributes crash force energy across five times more of the occupant’s torso than a traditional belt, helping to further reduce the risk of injury.

In everyday use, the inflatable belts operate like conventional safety belts and are safe and compatible with infant and child safety car and booster seats. In Ford’s research, more than 90 percent of those who tested the inflatable safety belts found them to be similar to or more comfortable than a conventional belt, because they feel padded and softer. Ford will monitor real-world effectiveness and customer acceptance of this new technology as it begins the phase-in into the Ford fleet.

Ford Escape 2010 with Safety Canopy

Ford Escape 2010 with Safety Canopy

Ford was the first in the industry to offer rollover-activated side-curtain air bags, known as the Safety Canopy®, beginning with the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer in 2002. The Safety Canopy with rollover sensors, combined with safety belts, helps to further reduce the risk of injury to vehicle occupants during side-impact collisions and rollover crashes. For the 2011 model year, the Safety Canopy is available on the Ford Explorer, Expedition, Edge, Flex, Escape, Taurus, F-150 and Super Duty, and the Lincoln MKX, MKT, Navigator and MKS.

Ford has recently implemented a new strategy for deploying side-curtain air bags in frontal impacts – specifically in the 40 mph/40 percent offset deformable barrier crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This strategy helps to reduce the risk of occupant contact with the roof rail, A-pillar and B-pillar and reduces containment concerns during frontal offset and angular impacts.

Ford is also advancing the state of the art in crash sensing. Specifically, we are phasing in new pressure-based sensors on new side air bag systems to deploy side air bags and curtains earlier in a crash as compared to state-of-the-art acceleration-based sensors. In a side collision, the pressure sensors are designed to detect a change in air pressure inside the front doors as the doors deform and send an electrical signal to deploy the side air bag system. Pressure-based sensors have increased accuracy to measure the severity of a side impact crash than acceleration-based sensors, which makes them better able to differentiate between a life-threatening, air-bag-deployable crash and relatively harmless daily abuse that should not require air bag protection. The system also enhances performance in new federal side-impact tests.

In Europe, the Ford Mondeo, S-MAX and Galaxy are equipped with an Inflatable Knee Bolster, designed to help reduce the driver’s forward motion in the event of a severe frontal crash and reduce the risk of injury to lower limbs. This technology is also available in the U.S. on the 2011 Fusion Hybrid and MKZ Hybrid and the 2011 Ford Fiesta.

Ford vehicles are engineered with advanced structures designed to direct crash energy around the passenger compartment. For example, Ford’s Side Protection And Cabin Enhancement architecture – known as SPACE™ Architecture – utilizes crash energy management techniques to help channel impact forces around and away from the passenger cabin in side collisions. The SPACE system integrates a high-strength steel structure in the floor that runs the width of the vehicle, as well as reinforcements along the rocker panels to help protect passengers in side-impact incidents. In addition, many new Ford vehicles are built with the company’s Trinity Front Crash Body Architecture. This energy-absorbing body structure is optimized for strength and stiffness, and it’s designed to absorb and redirect crash forces away from the passenger compartment.

As smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles become more popular, the safety of smaller cars is sometimes raised as a concern. Ford continues to make small cars even safer while building larger vehicles that are more crash compatible with smaller vehicles. The 2011 Ford Fiesta, for example, was the first mini-car to earn a 2010 Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety since the IIHS’s introduction of the new roof-strength test. The Fiesta’s extensive use of high-strength steels, our Trinity front crash structure, SPACE Architecture and advanced air bag technologies (including a segment-exclusive driver’s knee air bag) helped the car perform well in IIHS testing. In our larger vehicles, we’ve already lowered the front bumper structures on most of our crossovers, SUVs and pickups to help them better match up with small vehicle crash structures.

Finally, Ford is using more advanced and ultra-high-strength steels than ever as part of our continuing effort to enhance the safety and fuel efficiency of our vehicles. Increased use of these types of steels helps us design vehicle structures with enhanced crash energy management, while balancing overall vehicle weight – even as we add more features, equipment and safety devices.