Ford scraps optional inflatable rear seat belts from 2021 F-150

Sven Gustafson

Ford is infusing plenty of nifty and useful new features into the 2021 F-150, including storage options in the cab, the new Sync 4 infotainment system with over-the-air updates, and an in-bed power generator. But one thing that will no longer be offered is Ford’s inflatable rear seatbelts. CarsDirect first reported the news, which Ford confirmed to Autoblog.

Ford offers inflatable rear seatbelts as a $200 option in Crew Cab models for the current generation of its best-selling pickup truck. But Ford tells Autoblog that instead of continuing to offer them as an option, it will equip the rear belts in 2021 models with standard pre-tensioners and load limiters, which traditionally featured only in the front seats. They’ll similarly feature in the new Explorer, Edge, Escape and other vehicles, the company said.

"Moving forward, we’re going to continue using standard rear belts with prentensioners and load limiters instead of inflatable belts," spokesman Michael Levine said.

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Ford first unveiled the technology back in 2009 for the 2010 Explorer, and later rolled it out to more models. The system uses cold compressed gas to inflate the airbags in 40 milliseconds, covering five times more surface area across the body than a normal seatbelt. Lexus also introduced similar inflatable rear seat belts in the LFA in 2010, while Mercedes-Benz rolled out its own version in 2012.

Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued a report finding that rear-seat occupants were injured and killed at far higher rates from accidents than front-seat passengers even when they wore seatbelts. It said more widespread adoption of technologies like pre-tensioners and load limiters could help by better distributing forces across the torso and limiting the chance of injuries related to seat belts.

Yet Ford in 2017 issued a recall of 141,000 F-150s over defective rear seat belt airbag assemblies. Last year, the New York Times reported that Ford found consumers weren’t warming to them as an option, possibly because they are have awkward, larger-than-normal buckles that may be difficult for children, and possibly because consumers didn’t see value in them given the extra charge.

Meanwhile, Ford will also offer 10 new driver-assist features in the 2021 F-150 as part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 2.0 safety package, plus options including Intersection Assist, which detects oncoming traffic when you’re trying to make a left turn and applies the brakes automatically if there’s a risk of collision.

But for now, at least, its novel inflatable rear seat belt is going back on the shelf. We imagine it living in some dusty room at Ford HQ full of automotive curios that, for one reason or another, didn't work out.  

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