- Mercedes-Benz is working on a heated seatbelt, but it's not just a luxury touch.
- By adding warmth to the belts, part of its Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESF) demonstrator car, Benz hopes to encourage seatbelt use.
- Heated seatbelts would join the steering wheel, seats, armrests, and door panels as heatable surfaces in a Mercedes-Benz-if it reaches production.
Mercedes-Benz is the current leader in heated-car-surface technology (a category we sort of made up), what with its top models offering heated armrests and door panels in addition to the usual heated seats and steering wheel. Now the automaker is eyeing a new interior component to heat: the seatbelts.
At first, this seems frivolous-but luxury is all about frivolity, isn't it? It's about addressing needs you didn't know you had, like needing to warm up your tummy and a diagonal stretch of your torso. But Mercedes has another, more altruistic motive than that. It wants to encourage seatbelt use, which although high in Europe is woefully low (around 85 percent, averaged between front- and rear-seat occupants) in the United States and far, far lower in China. By adding features to the belts, Benz figures, it can cajole more people into using them.
We think everyone should wear seatbelts, regardless of their position in the car (yes, even the back seat!), but we get that many people don't see things our way. Nor, for that matter, do numerous states throughout America; our home state of Michigan doesn't require their use for back-seat passengers. That said, Michigan also has no vehicle safety or emissions inspections, meaning you can legally drive some real hoopties here that are so decrepit that, we suppose, you'd rather be thrown clear of them than strapped inside during an accident. But we're getting away from the point, which is to wear your seatbelt no matter what.
So, anyway, back to the heated-seatbelt developments. We were given the opportunity to try them out in prototype form in Germany. (We didn't fly all the way to Germany to have thin areas of our abdomens heated by a belt; we also saw Benz's latest safety vehicle concept, which these belts were fitted to, along with USB-port-equipped buckles.) The belt is not perceptibly thicker than a regular belt and does indeed get warm, thanks to heated tube elements running through the belt, which operate with the same superheated gusto as most German cars' heated seats. Need proof? Check out the thermal imaging view of this author enjoying a toasty lap and shoulder region, represented in hot pink and red in the image above.
If you're wondering when you, too, could have your left- or right-side shoulder and hip regions heated, we have bad news: Mercedes-Benz wouldn't confirm if or when these fancy belts would ever reach production. That said, the technology seems ready now and easy to implement, and its presence on the ESF 2019 safety concept (keep in mind, its 2009 predecessor's safety features now grace most production Mercedes-Benzes) suggests it could be headed to a dealership near you soon.
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