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 unbelted test.

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 warning systems.

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.