Ford Motor Co.'s new inflatable seatbelt should mitigate passenger injuries but also could hike the cost of car insurance, as well as the price of a vehicle offering the technology.

The safety option will debut on the '11 Explorer cross/utility vehicle next year.

The inflatable belt especially will be helpful in protecting young children and elderly passengers, who more often are seated in the rear and more susceptible to head, neck and chest injuries, Ford says.

In the event of a collision, the belt deploys over an occupant's torso and shoulder in 40 milliseconds, distributing the force of the crash across five times more of the body than a traditional belt. It also provides support to the head and neck.

However, the belt, which inflates with cold compressed gas during collisions at speeds of 8 mph (13 km/h) or more, must be replaced after deployment. Ford has yet to announce the cost of replacement or the price of the belt itself.

Such costs may be a factor in consumer acceptance of the feature, admits Steve Kozak, Ford's global chief engineer for safety systems. “There are no serviceable components in the system,” he tells Ward's at a media event showcasing the new belt.

“You'd have to go to a Ford dealer and get new seatbelts,” he says. “Of course it's going to have some impact on insurance costs because of the repair, but if you consider the coordinated medical coverage some insurance companies have, it may not.”