TRW Automotive Holdings has announced the first production contract for its active buckle lifter (ABL) seat belt technology - with "a major European vehicle manufacturer" and a production start in 2013. The system will be launched on rear seats but is also available for front seats.

ABL simplifies locating and fastening the belt by lifting the buckle into a convenient position once the passenger is seated; helps to reduce seat belt slack in dynamic driving situations; and, by helping to reduce slack in critical driving situations, can contribute to reducing the possibility of out-of-position occupants.

Uwe Class, TRW's senior engineering manager, active restraint systems, said: "The ABL can help drivers and passengers to fasten their seat belts easier by raising the buckle by up to 70mm - bringing it to a more convenient location if the buckle is difficult to access, for example due to a larger or higher center console on the front seats or deep buckle positions on the rear seats. It can also help those with mobility difficulties - minimising the twisting or leaning action required to locate the buckle. Once fastened, the buckle then returns to its normal position.

"As well as improving driver comfort, the ABL offers support in dynamic driving situations such as hard braking or quickly driven curves. Using data from the onboard active safety sensors, it can retract the buckle which can reduce belt slack around the pelvis and chest. This may help to keep the occupant in the intended, and more controlled seating position."

The safety function of the ABL is activated during critical situations such as panic braking or loss of stability. The seat belt can be quickly tightened, by up to 80mm, helping to maintain proper occupant position for airbag deployment if a crash is deemed to be imminent.

Class added: "Technologies such as our ABL are becoming more interesting for vehicle manufacturers; firstly, with an aging population globally, we believe that comfort functions are becoming increasingly important for this demographic. And secondly, with European Commission targets to halve the number of road fatalities by 2020, the industry is placing greater focus on active safety functions such as automatic emergency braking - which can easily be integrated with our ABL. TRW is also using GPS data as an input to its ABL to provide dynamic support in advance of a vehicle reaching a bend, for example."