Here’s a problem: Rear-seat automobile passengers are not nearly as protected as those in front. Why? For one, only 61% wear their seat belts back there. And two, because of the general absence of air bags, even while wearing a seat belt a collision can involve dangerous jolting, whiplash, etc., especially for children. Yet most cars continue to produce basically the same safety belt systems my mother had on her 1965 Rambler.
Ford had a better idea. (Nice to see from a domestic car company!) They developed an inflatable seat belt for the rear passengers. Like air bags, they deploy on contact–within 40 milliseconds, says Ford. Once inflated, they increase the surface area of the seat belt by five times, thus reducing injuries, especially for children.
But there’s more. Ford has also made the belts more comfortable before inflation, eliminating a barrier to usage. (And of course, if you know you’ve got a state-of-the-art system you’re more likely to use it anyway.)
The inflatable seat belts are a $120 option in current Ford Explorers, and a variation was also recently made available on Toyota’s exotic Lexus LFA concept car. (For $375k, you ought to get a bodyguard to take a bullet for you.) And I expect that we’ll see more of these over time.
Why we like this innovation: First, it solves a problem. And usually, the best solutions are innovative. Unfortunately, most businesses get resigned to things not working very well and fail to even consider the possibility of an imaginative change. Second, this innovation works on more than one front. Not only are the seat belts inflatable, but they are also designed to be more comfortable. It’s easy to stop at one idea, but we love it when the team keeps thinking, and makes an even better mousetrap. And finally, you’ve got to love applying innovation to something as staid and boring as a seat belt.
Now why not do something more interesting with the glove box? The sun visor? Or the trunk?