Side curtain airbags aren’t exactly new technology, but the five-row side curtain airbag coming to the full-size Ford Transit passenger van certainly takes the idea to a new level.
A press release from Ford explained that 2015 Ford Transit vans in 15-passenger configuration would offer the industry’s first five-row side curtain airbag designed to protect occupants as part of the Motor Company’s Safety Canopy system. The side curtain airbags should help protect passengers from head and neck injuries in side-impact and rollover crashes, Ford said.
Ford Restraints Manager Sean West said, “The Transit Wagon’s five-row side curtain airbag is a great technological innovation that allows us to provide a high level of protection to multiple passengers in one of Ford’s largest vehicles. We are proud to build on our safety leadership.”
Just how big is a five-row side curtain airbag? Ford says it measures 15 feet long by three feet tall and has an internal volume of 120 liters. The press release offered a comparison: The side curtain airbags in the Ford Fusion sedan is approximately 6.8 feet long and two feet tall, with a volume of 42 liters.
When a crash happens, Ford said a series of sensors detects the impact and triggers two of the largest airbag inflators in the automotive industry, filling the entire airbag with stored gas in a fraction of a second. The bag is filled by the inflators in a pattern engineered to manage the direction of airbag deployment, Ford said, while controlling thickness throughout the length of the bag. The side curtain airbag itself is constructed from a coated, polyester-based fabric that holds the gas, allowing it to stay inflated for several seconds, according to the press release.
One might think it would be simpler to design several smaller side curtain airbags rather than one huge bag, but Ford said the single-bag design — when combined with tethering at the vehicle’s B-, C-, and D-pillars — helps keep the airbag supported when deployed. Since Ford said it worked with passive safety system experts at TRW Automotive on this massive side curtain airbag, we’ll take their word for it.
TRW Vice President for Occupant Safety Systems Engineering Norbert Kagerer said, “This airbag technology is unique in its purpose, which is to help provide protection across five rows of passengers in a cabin that is more spacious than the more traditional light-duty vehicle. The stringent customer and industry regulatory requirements for airbags called for developing a system that provides appropriate occupant protection in a smart package.”
Side curtain airbags are standard equipment on all Ford Transit Wagons, the press release said. Other safety features reportedly include front seat side airbags for the driver and front passenger, three-point safety belts on all seats, Ford’s AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, and SOS Post-Crash Alert System.
One thing’s for sure: Van safety has come a long way since I was shuttled around in a 15-passenger Ford E-Series when my preschool did small field trips to the pool, the park, or wherever. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure that old van — which probably pre-dated most of us kids who were born in the mid-’80s — even had seat belts for passengers on the rear bench seats.