Mr. Warren Howard
    9340 Halsell Road
    Gulfport, MS 39501

    Dear Mr. Howard:

    This responds to your telephone calls asking about the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, as they relate to a device you have developed. According to your calls, the device would prevent the radio or sound system of a vehicle from emitting any sound unless the occupants of all designated seating positions have their seat belts fastened. You ask if the statutes and regulations administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would prohibit the sale or use of such a device.

    By way of background, NHTSA administers a statute requiring that motor vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States or imported into the United States be manufactured so as to reduce the likelihood of motor vehicle crashes and of deaths and injuries when crashes do occur. We refer to that statute as the Vehicle Safety Act. It is codified at 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq.

    One of the agencys functions under the Vehicle Safety Act is to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs). These standards specify safety performance requirements for motor vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment. Manufacturers must certify compliance with all applicable safety standards and permanently apply a label to each vehicle or item of equipment stating that the vehicle complies with all applicable FMVSSs.

    Requirements for audible and visual warnings for seat belts are established in S7 of FMVSS No. 208. S7.3 specifies that the driver's seating position be equipped with a seat belt warning system that activates, under specified circumstances, a continuous or intermittent audible signal for a period of "not less than 4 seconds and not more than 8 seconds."

    In a letter dated June 7, 2001, to Mr. Bob Archer of Longacre Associates, we indicated that a vehicle manufacturer wishing to provide a voluntary audible signal that sounds after the 8 second period specified in S7.3 of FMVSS No. 208 may do so, but must provide some means for differentiating the voluntarily provided signal from the required signal. We suggested that such differentiation could be provided in various ways; e.g., by time (the voluntarily provided signal begins well after the required signal ends) or sound (the voluntarily provided signal has a different sound than the required signal).

    It is our position that a device such as you have described, which would disable a vehicles radio or sound system if occupants are not belted, may be installed in addition to, but not in place of, the warning system required by S7.3. Such a device may be offered either as an original equipment option or an aftermarket item, but it must be configured such that it can be differentiated from the warning system required by S7.3.

    You should assure that the installation of your device does not negatively impact any required safety system. After the first sale of a vehicle, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses are prohibited from "knowingly making inoperative" any device or element of design installed on or in that vehicle in compliance with an applicable standard. In general, the "make inoperative" prohibition (49 U.S.C. 30122) requires businesses that modify motor vehicles to ensure that they do not remove, disconnect, or degrade the performance of safety equipment installed in compliance with an applicable standard. Violations of this prohibition are punishable by civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

    In addition, the device you describe would be considered "motor vehicle equipment" under the vehicle safety act. Therefore, if the device contained a defect (either in manufacture, design, or performance) that relates to motor vehicle safety, the manufacturer would be required to conduct a recall campaign to notify owners and to remedy the defect free of charge.

    I hope this information answers your questions. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Otto Matheke of my staff at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel

    cc:      Greg Smith

    Garvey, Smith, Nehrbass & Doody, LLC
    Suite 3290
    3838 North Causeway Blvd.
    Metairie, LA 70002