Imagine you are a young woman just a few years out from high school and working at Ford Motor Company in Detroit in the mid-1950s—a golden era for the U.S. automotive industry. That was my mom who still fondly remembers her job at Ford in the employment department. I have three uncles who retired from Ford and several members of my family own Ford vehicles (including myself right now as an owner of an Explorer), so when I received an email inviting me to tour the Ford Safety Innovation Lab last month I was excited to learn more.
After checking into the beautiful, historic Dearborn Inn, built in 1931 on the grounds of Ford Motor Company, our group of bloggers were given a behind-the-scenes tour of Ford’s Safety Innovation Lab. We saw first hand what crash test dummies go through on a typical day. I’d need a jumbo bottle of aspirin at the end of the day if I were them. I’d never actually heard an air bag being deployed before until then. It sounds like a gun shot, and yes I know what that sounds like -I grew up in the country so lots of gun shots aimed at various and sundry critters going on in the woods near my house.
Something I’d never thought about was just how much research and technology goes behind every single component of the cars we drive. Every part of a Ford vehicle is designed to absorb energy and protect you, the driver, during an impact. Ford conducts about 500 full vehicle tests a year, but this is very costly, so the Safetey Innovation Lab has broken down each component of a vehicle to isolate and evaluate specific ordeals. I don’t know about you, but safety equals peace of mind for me. I am constantly chauffering my girls to school, soccer practices, playdates, etc. We spend a lot of time in my car. Heck some days I live in my car.
After lunch and meeting Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of sustainability and safety, and Scott Monty, Ford’s social media guru extraordinaire, we learned about five new safety innovations in Ford vehicles:
- Inflatable Seat Belts – Designed for rear seat passengers (coming later this year in the 2011 Explorer…I drive a 2003 Explorer so this was really interesting to me), these deploy in less than 30 milliseconds and spread seatbelt protection over 5 times more of the body, enhancing head, neck ,and chest protection. I love this feature, especially the added safety for kids, teens, and the elderly.
- MyKey – Great peace of mind for parents of teen drivers who want to put some restrictions on things like vehicle speed and stereo volume. My own Miss C will have her learner’s permit in just 7 years. I’ve never really seen safety technology geared toward making teen drivers better drivers. Hats off again to Ford for their forward thinking, even if forward thinking to the teen years makes mama a little nervous.
- Cross Traffic Alert – Keeps you safe from approaching (and often speeding) vehicles when you’re backing your vehicle out in a busy parking lot. You get a beeping alert if a car is approaching. I could see this being great during the holidays when everyone is hopped up on Starbucks and getting a little road rage about parking spaces at the mall.
- Active Park Assist – This was the wildest thing to me. I was able to test this out in a new Ford Flex. With the push of a button the car actually parallel parks FOR YOU. Although I thought this feature was nothing short of amazing, it took me a while to get the hang of actually letting go of the steering wheel and letting the car do the parking. Someone has control issues. Ahem. Also I could see people getting irate and honking at you if you were as slow at this I was.
- Curve Control - We were all able to experience first hand what it feels like to take a curve at 55 mph without and then with Curve Control; by 2015 90% of all Ford vehicles will have Curve Control (the patent is still pending for this technology). Pretty amazing, although I hope I never need something like this!
Here are some interesting facts about the Ford Safety Laboratories:
- More than 17,000 crash tests have been conducted since 1954
- 2 to 3 crash tests are conducted per day
- The safety lab has an inventory of more than 100 ATDs (Anthropomorphic Test Devices)...you and I know them as Crash Test Dummies
Day two of the Ford safety experience kicked off with a session on the VIRTTEX virtual test track. Jessica Gottlieb of JessicaGottlieb.com and Andrea Fellman of Savvy Sassy Moms both tested driver distraction. VIRTTEX stands for VIRtual Test Track EXperiment. Ford is the only North American automaker with a full-motion-based driving simulator like VIRTTEX. It allows Ford researchers to test product features and driver behaviors safely in a controlled environment and the simulator looks very space age. They’ve used it recently to conduct drowsy driver tests.
Afterwards we met with Kelley Adams-Campos, a certified child safety technician who has been with Ford for nearly 21 years. Kelley showed us the ins and outs of proper child seat installation. I’m always amazed at how much things change in just a few short years. Miss A is 5 and there are already so many new developments in car seats since she was a baby. We also learned more about Ford’s strides in developing digital human body models for safety testing.
Thank you Ford for an amazing, and informative trip! I think what Ford VP Sue Cischke said sums up their philosophy with regard to vehicle safety: “We are all about family safety.”
A little shout out to the other bloggers who attended the Ford safety event June 28-29 in Detroit:
Andrea from Savvy Sassy Moms
Nichelle from Style Mom
Jessica Gottlieb from JessicaGottlieb.com
Crystal from Simply Being Mommy
Liz from Thoughts of a Mommy
I’ll be test driving a 2011 Ford this fall, so stay tuned! Check out The Ford Story online.
Disclosure: Ford paid for my travel expenses to Detroit, including my airfare and lodging, but I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed here are solely my own. I will also be test driving a Ford vehicle but I am not obligated to write about it.