New seatbelt design works for Rinspeed microMAX concept, but how about your car?

A new seat belt design by TRW eliminates the buckle.

A new seat belt design by TRW eliminates the buckle.

The seat belt buckle has been around so long that it’s almost a joke when a flight attendant’s safety instructions include how fasten one. TRW would change that, however, at least for some applications, with a new “semi-automatic” seatbelt attachment system. The belt system is part of a semi-standing seating arrangement in the microMAX concept vehicle from Rinspeed.

The new TRW seatbelt design hooks behind the "webbing catcher" which is then snapped closed.

The new TRW seatbelt design hooks behind the “webbing catcher” which is then snapped closed.

Instead of the buckle and tongue arrangement, the new TRW system simply loops the belt around a sort of hook called a “webbing catcher.”  The passenger simply pulls the entire belt around, with no fumbling for a buckle, hooks it around the webbing catcher and then pushes the webbing catcher closed. The webbing catcher is unlocked by pushing an ordinary release button.

Rinspeed microMAX

In addtition to the novel seating and belt arrangement, the microMax is designed to find its way around town using a “swarm” technology.

The seatbelt system is used in a semi-standing seat designed for short-hop transportation, as shown by Rinspeed’s microMAX. The passengers semi-straddle height-adjustable semi-saddles. Within a length of about 145 inches—Rinspeed cites the Mini Cooper as an equivalent—the “microMAX” contains the semi-standing driver plus three semi-standing passengers and an unfolded stroller or shopping cart.

Rinspeed microMAX

The Rinspeed microMAX’s semi-standing seats are contoured to fit, with a child booster seat for little folks.

It’s certainly more comfortable than standing, as any bus straphanger will tell you, but the semi-seat would be more male-friendly than for those wearing a tight skirt. Perhaps a sidesaddle mode would be possible? At east Rinspeed has a booster seat for small children. All in all, however, it looks semi-comfortable. (Please don’t tell discount airlines about this seat).

Rinspeed microMAX interior

The Rinspeed microMAX solution for women wearing tight skirts: the overcoat.

The seatbelt, however, is particularly intriguing, and could be applied to conventional seating as well. Children would find it easier to operate, and just think, no more groping for the seatbelt buckle down between the seats. Where the heck did that thing go…?

The semi-standing seats may have only a semi-future, but the latch-free seatbelt could be the next big thing in car safety.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

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