Mr. Robert Babcock
Manager, Corporate Affairs
Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc.,
5075 Venture Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Dear Mr. Babcock:
This responds to your request asking whether a driver and passenger safety belt reminder system under development by Hyundai violates any Federal motor vehicle safety standards. The Hyundai system, as described, is not prohibited by any such standards.
According to your letter, the Hyundai system consists of a driver seat system that activates a visual reminder that remains lit whenever the ignition is turned to the "ON" position if the safety belt is not fastened and an audible alert that is activated one minute after the ignition is turned on. Both alerts cease once the safety belt is fastened. The passenger seat safety belt reminder system consists of a visible alert that activates whenever the ignition is in the "ON" position, the air bag occupant sensor system detects the presence of an occupant in the passenger seat, and the safety belt is unfastened. The visible alert turns off once the safety belt is fastened after the ignition has been turned on for 6 seconds. This 6-second activation is the result of the air bag system self-check protocol and, consequently, is unrelated to safety belt use. In your letter you note that such self-check systems are commonly used by vehicle manufacturers for other telltales or alerts.
The only safety standard that could conceivably prohibit the Hyundai system is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, Occupant crash protection (FMVSS No. 208). S7.3 of that standard requires the driver's seating position be equipped with a safety 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," and a continuous or flashing warning light for not less than 60 seconds after the ignition switch is turned on if the safety belt is not buckled. The system described in your letter meets these criteria. A manufacturer may, at its option, reduce the period of the visual warning to 4 to 8 seconds if it is activated even when the safety belt is buckled.
The provision in the standard establishing a maximum of 8 seconds for the audible signal reflects a statutory requirement imposed by Congress in response to public resistance to safety belt interlock systems. See House report 93-1452, pp.44-45. 49 U.S.C. 30124 provides, in relevant part, that a motor vehicle safety standard "may not require or allow a manufacturer to comply with the standard by...using...a buzzer designed to indicate a safety belt is not in use, except a buzzer that operates only during the 8-second period after the ignition is turned to the 'start' or 'on' position."
While the statute prohibits the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from requiring, or specifying as a compliance option, an audible safety belt warning that sounds outside of the specified 8-second period, it does not prohibit vehicle manufacturers from placing such systems in their vehicles. However, given FMVSS No. 208's requirement that the required safety belt warning be no longer than 8 seconds, a vehicle manufacturer wishing to provide a voluntary audible signal must provide some means of differentiating the voluntarily-provided signal from the required signal. This is necessary so NHTSA can verify that the system installed to meet FMVSS No. 208 is compliant. One way to differentiate between the two signals is a clearly distinguishable lapse in time between the two signals. The Hyundai system, as described, only activates once the ignition has been turned to the "ON" position for 60 seconds and the driver safety belt remains unfastened. This time lapse is sufficiently long to make the second audible signal clearly distinguishable from the initial, required 8-second signal. Accordingly, the additional driver seat belt reminder system is permitted under the standard.
FMVSS No. 208 does not regulate passenger safety belt reminder systems at all. Accordingly, there is no prohibition against the system you have described for that seating position. We generally would be concerned about a system that remained activated long after the safety belt was fastened. However, we believe that a total visual alert time of 6 seconds after the ignition is turned "ON" even when the safety belt is fastened is unlikely to distract or annoy the vehicle occupant.
I hope this information addresses your concerns. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Rebecca MacPherson of my staff at (202) 366-2992.