The automotive supplier ZF Group revealed a cool little gadget at the Consumer Electronics Show Thursday: A heated seatbelt potentially capable of cutting down on range loss in electric vehicles during a cold snap.
The company calls it the Heat Belt and didn’t spend too much time on it during its presentation, but we do have a few details via Car and Driver:
Woven into the Heat Belt are conductive wires that warm up to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit when activated. ZF says the wires add minimal thickness to the belt and that it works with existing seatbelt hardware. When combined with a heated seat and steering wheel, it could improve the cold-weather range of an EV by up to 15%. Which, on the one hand makes you wonder how much of that comes from just the heated belt. On the other hand, why not heat the front of your body along with your paws and backside? Forget range anxiety, some of us just like being cozy. And on that note, ZF points out that the Heat Belt encourages people to remove bulky winter coats, which helps the seatbelt fit better, enhancing safety in a crash.
Electric cars can lose 25 percent or more of their range in cold weather. It’s a real barrier to mass EV acceptance in places that experiences months of low temperatures. The automotive press is ecstatic over the idea (The Drive headline reads “ZF’s New Heated Seatbelts Are Like a Warm Hug From Your Car”) and I for one don’t blame them. Who doesn’t like a bit of cozy wozy in a car? But the Heat Belt gives me pause.
Just take a look at heated seats. It’s a technology we’ve been dialing in for a long time, but as recently as 2011 the National Highway Traffic Safety administration opened an investigation after 138 reports of serious burns caused by heated seats. The problem is particularly dangerous for people with limited sensation in their limbs who might not realize they’re being burned by seats until too late.
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Heated seats have also been linked to “Toasted Skin Syndrome.” While it sounds like something you get on Spring Break, it’s actually a painful rash that can erupt after skin is pressed against a heating element for too long, Reuters reports.
And that’s all from a heating element that doesn’t double as a critical form of safety in a motor vehicle, one that has saved 375,000 lives since 1975 according to NHTSA. A malfunction in a Heat Belt could have disastrous consequences. ZF says the belt will operated identically to a regular seat belt, but how will those heating elements stand up to being slammed in a car door or doused with coffee after a sudden stop? I’ve reached out to ZF Group and will update if I learn more.
While ZF says the Heat Belt will encourage folks to take their coats off in the car, which is a safer way to use a seatbelt, not all will. It’s a bit of a pain, getting all bundled up, walking out to the car, only to take off your coat and be exposed to the cold. Or worse yet, wrestle with your coat in the driver’s seat. Those people in particular may not know the heating element in the belt is malfunctioning until it’s too late.
Quite a few of the automotive journalists I know and respect hit the heated seats option the second they turn on a vehicle, myself included. But here I am to rain on everyone’s parade once more: if you want to improve the seatbelt, make it more safe. Otherwise, it just seems like a bad idea.