“Freedom requires safety”, says Dr. Michael Büchsner, head of the Passive Safety Systems Division at ZF. “That’s why we’re researching and enhancing proven occupant safety systems to give vehicle manufacturers more scope for the required additional seating positions.” Ultimately, a conventional steering wheel airbag may be less effective if the driver has turned the seat by 90 degrees. The same applies to concepts where the steering wheel folds away in auto mode, or indeed where there is no steering wheel. Then there’s the seat belt: being anchored in the car body, it’s not designed to restrain a passenger in an unconventional position – at least, not enough in the current configuration.
So what’s a possible solution? “We’re integrating the seatbelt and airbags in the seat itself”, explains Norbert Kagerer, head of Integrated Safety at ZF. “This creates a kind of safety cell in the car that can rotate with the passengers.” Other areas can be covered by airbags that deploy from the dashboard, headliner, between the seats, and so on.