Appendix A to the Preamble -Response to Petition
In conjunction with commenting on the NPRM, Carl Nash and Donald Friedman
submitted a petition for rulemaking to amend Standard No. 208 to "require effective belt
use inducement." The petitioners noted that such an amendment would need to be
consistent with a provision of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which
prohibits ignition interlocks and continuous buzzers.
The petitioners stated that the inducements could include, but need not be
limited to: (1) a continuous visual reminder to buckle seat belts located prominently
on the instrument panel, (2) an intermittent, repeating audible suggestion (such as with
a synthesized voice) warning occupants to buckle their seat belt, and (3) disruption of
electrical power to such "non-essential" accessories as the radio, tape or CD player,
and air conditioning. Mr. Nash and Mr. Friedman argued that a belt use inducement has
the potential to save a minimum of 7,000 additional lives per year, and that, with an
effective belt use inducement, NHTSA could simultaneously rescind Standard No. 208's
After carefully considering the petition submitted by Mr. Nash and Mr. Friedman,
we have decided to deny it. We note that Standard No. 208 already requires both a
warning light and an audible signal to remind occupants to wear their seat belts. The
required warning system is tied to the driver seat belt, and the light and audible
signal are only required for a brief period after the driver starts the vehicle.
In evaluating Mr. Nash's and Mr. Friedman's petition, we have considered whether
the new requirements they recommend would (1) likely result in additional safety
benefits, (2) be acceptable to the public, and (3) be within our statutory authority.
None of their recommended requirements meet all of these criteria.
We note that our agency's previous experience with ignition interlocks indicates
that great care must be taken in requiring vehicle modifications to induce higher belt
use, to avoid consumer backlash. As of August 1973, Standard No. 208 required all new
cars to be equipped either with automatic protection or an ignition interlock for both
front outboard seating positions. General Motors sold about ten thousand of its 1974
model year cars equipped with air bags that met the automatic protection requirement.
Every other 1974 model year car sold in the United States came with an ignition
interlock, which prevented the engine from operating if either the driver or front seat
outboard passenger failed to fasten their manual seat belt.
In a notice published in the Federal Register (39 FR 10272) on
March 19, 1974, we described the public reaction to the ignition interlock as follows:
"Public resistance to the belt-starter interlock system . . . has been substantial, with
current tallies of proper lap-shoulder belt usage on 1974 models running at or below the
60% level. Even that figure is probably optimistic as a measure of results to be
achieved, in light of the likelihood that as time passes the awareness that the forcing
systems can be disabled, and the means for doing so will become more widely
disseminated. . . ."
There were also speeches on the floor of both houses of Congress expressing the
public's anger at the interlock requirement. On October 27, 1974, President Ford signed
into law a bill that prohibited any Federal motor vehicle safety standard from requiring
or permitting as a means of compliance any seat belt interlock system. In response to
this change in the law, we published a final rule in the Federal
Register (39 FR 38380) on October 31, 1974 that deleted the interlock option
from Standard No. 208 effective immediately.
We believe that the petitioner's recommendation for a Federal requirement for
disruption of electrical power to such accessories as the radio, tape or CD player, and
air conditioning, if a person is not wearing their seat belts, would be unacceptable to
a significant portion of the public. Such a requirement would be indistinguishable in
nature from a requirement for an interlock.
As to the petitioners' recommendation that we require an intermittent, repeating
audible suggestion (such as with a synthesized voice) warning occupants to buckle their
seat belt, we are expressly prohibited from promulgating a requirement under the 1974
amendments to the Safety Act. The petitioners recognized that the amendments prohibited
us from requiring "continuous buzzers." However, the term "continuous buzzer" was
defined to mean any buzzer other than one which operates only during the 8 second period
after the ignition is turned to the "start" or "on" position.(1) Thus, we do not have the authority to require
audible warnings outside that 8 second period.
While we would have authority to require a continuous visual reminder, as also
recommended by the petitioners, they did not provide any information indicating that
such a reminder would likely result in additional safety benefits over the existing
We also note that, even if we believed that there existed an effective belt use
inducement that we had authority to require and that was publicly acceptable, we could
not simultaneously rescind Standard No. 208's unbelted test. First, there would be no
way of knowing how effective any belt use inducement would be until after it had been in
place for several years. Second, as we noted in the September 1998 NPRM, even in
countries where seat belt use is 90 percent, unbelted occupants still represent about 33
percent of all fatalities. We also note that TEA 21 requires us to conduct rulemaking
to improve occupant protection for occupants of different sizes, belted and unbelted,
while minimizing risks. Rescission of Standard No. 208's test requirements for unbelted
occupants would not be consistent with the statutory requirement to improve protection
for unbelted occupants.
While we have decided to deny Mr. Nash's and Mr. Friedman's petition, for the
reasons discussed above, we recognize that increased seat belt use offers the potential
of enormous safety benefits. Even small increases in seat belt use offer the potential
of significant savings in lives. We therefore encourage vehicle manufacturers to
evaluate whether vehicle warning and other systems can be improved to increase seat belt
use in ways that are acceptable to their customers.
We note that, earlier this year, Ford announced plans to use a new "Belt-Minder"
system that warns unbuckled drivers with an intermittent chime until they buckle their
seat belts. Drivers who don't want to wear their belts can disable the intermittent
chime by buckling, then unbuckling their belt. While we note that this is a system that
we would not have authority to require, we are encouraged by Ford's innovative approach
and are hopeful that it will result in increased seat belt use and savings in lives.
1. This provision was later
codified using different language but without substantive change at 49 U.S.C. 30124.