Ford touts safety, design for unborn passengers

Ford touts safety, design for unborn passengers

July 20th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Bailey Watson, left, demonstrates a proper method for attaching a seat belt while wearing a pregnancy suit called "The Empathy Belly." The device was designed by engineers to research and develop a safe seat belt application for expectant mothers. Jude Templin, center, of Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., and Clay Watson, president of Mountain View Ford, oversee the demonstration.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


* Wear a seat belt. It protects both the mother and unborn child.

*The top strap should snake across the center of your chest, and over the top of your shoulder, while the lap belt should be below your belly.

*Move the front seat as far back as possible, keeping at least 10 inches between chest and dashboard. Adjustable pedals can help make this more comfortable.

*Air bags do not replace a seat belt. Buckle up, even if you have them.

*Do not turn off the airbags. Together with a seat belt, they increase safety.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Bailey Watson, an employee at Mountain View Ford, grinned and stood motionless as the dealership's president and a Ford representative worked to lower the heavy empathy belly onto her torso.

The $900 pregnancy simulator embellished the woman with the chest and midsection of a very expectant mother, as she gingerly pulled herself into the front seat of a Lincoln SUV.

The hefty suit contains a water-filled cavity for the simulated bosom, and the large rubberized belly can be filled with water and rocks to mimic the movement of a baby during a spirited drive through the mountains.

Ford engineers use the suit when they're designing cars to ensure that unborn children stay safe, even in accidents. Now they're touring around the country to demonstrate pregnant driving techniques.

More than 170,000 car crashes per year involve expectant mothers, said Clay Watson, president of Mountain View Ford, and many tend to drive "until their doctor advises them not to."

"You've got to pay attention to how you wear the seat belt and how much space to leave between yourself and the steering wheel," he said. "If you have adjustable pedals, they can help shorter women sit farther back from the steering wheel and airbag."

Of course, even in a new car with side-curtain air bags and inflatable restraints, the seat belt remains the No. 1 safety feature in any automobile, said Ford representative Judd Templin.

"You want the lap belt below the belly, and the shoulder harness actually on the shoulder, not pushed down to the side," Templin said. "You wouldn't believe how many people do that."

Putting on a seat belt incorrectly or not wearing one at all leads to nearly 400 fetal deaths each year, he said, which he believes makes it one of the most pressing dangers to the unborn. In fact, more pregnant women die in car crashes than from birthing complications.

That worries him, because "there are a lot of expectant mothers on the road right now," he said.

To test the cars more effectively, Ford also is working on new 3D simulation technology that may replace the big baby suit, as computers grow up and take over the chores.

"We're working on virtual crash tests using a 3D dummy," he said.

But it's hard to beat an old fashioned pregnancy suit for live demonstrations.

"[I] don't think the computer simulations and the lab they're done in would be easy to pack up and travel," Templin said.