Mr. Perry Speevack
12286 Soaring Flight Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32225
Dear Mr. Speevack:
This is in response to your letter in which you ask about the requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the Detachable Seat Belt Release Button Protector, an aftermarket product you have developed that would prevent children in booster seats from pressing a vehicles seat belt release button. Based upon the information you provided this agency and as is explained more fully below, we have determined that no Federal motor vehicle safety standard specifically applies to your product. However, as a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment you have certain responsibilities under our laws.
In your submission, you claimed that the information you provided is privileged, confidential, and protected from disclosure. In a telephone conversation of April 27, 2007 with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you waived your claim to confidential treatment of the information you provided.
By way of background information, NHTSA is authorized under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. Chapter 301; Safety Act) to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA, however, does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment or pass on the compliance of a vehicle or item of equipment outside the context of an actual enforcement proceeding. Instead, our statute establishes a self-certification process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on our understanding of the information set forth in your letter.
Description of the Detachable Seat Belt Release Button Protector
Your device is designed to be secured on existing seat belt assembly systems in motor vehicles. You state that the aftermarket detachable prototype of your device consists of an upper section and a lower section. The upper section contains a hinge (similar to a door hinge) that measures two inches by one half inches. One side of the hinge is tacked, using adhesive liquid or tape, to the housing of the vehicle seat belt latch plate. The lower section of your product, consisting of a hook on a strap, is made to adhere to the housing of the seat belt buckle.
To use the product, when the seat belt is buckled, the unattached part of the hinge would be capable of flipping up and down over the seat belt release button. When this unattached part of the hinge is up, you state that the seat belt release button is exposed and the belt can be unfastened from the buckle. When the unattached part of the hinge is down and the seat belt assembly is latched, the unattached part of the hinge forms a cover over the release button. There is a ring on the upper section that the consumer would attach to the hook on the lower section of your product, when the consumer wants to prevent a child from unbuckling the belt. The consumer would attach this hook on the lower section to the one-inch ring on the upper section when the seat belt is buckled, thus keeping the cover closed over and covering the buckle release button.
No FMVSS Currently Applies to Your Product
There is currently no Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) that applies to your product. FMVSS No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies, sets forth requirements for new seat belt assemblies. Your product does not meet the definition of a seat belt assembly, so the standard would not apply. FMVSS No. 213 Child Restraint Systems, is NHTSAs standard for child restraints. It applies to any device except Type I or Type II seat belts, designed for use in a motor vehicle or aircraft to restrain, seat, or position children who weigh 65 pounds or less (See S4 of FMVSS No. 213.) Since your product would not itself restrain, seat, or position a child, it would not be a child restraint system. Therefore, FMVSS No. 213 would not apply to your product. FMVSS No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials, generally does not apply to aftermarket equipment items.
Making Inoperative the Compliance of a Vehicle With FMVSS No. 209
Although we do not have any standards that directly apply to your product, you should be aware that 49 U.S.C. 30122, Making safety devices and elements inoperative could affect its manufacture. That section prohibits commercial businesses from knowingly making inoperative devices or elements of design installed in a motor vehicle or on an item of motor vehicle equipment, such as a vehicle seat belt assembly, in compliance with the FMVSSs. There are several seat belt elements of design that could be affected by your product, which we will discuss below. The make inoperative provision does not apply to individual owners installing aftermarket equipment on their own vehicles. However, it is our policy to encourage vehicle owners not to tamper with or otherwise degrade the safety of safety systems.
Subparagraph (d) Buckle release of S4.3 Requirements for hardware, of FMVSS No. 209 requires the pushbutton release for any buckle on a seat belt to have a minimum area for applying the release force. Subparagraph (d) also requires the buckle to release when a specified maximum force is applied. It appears that, by design, your product would cover the
button and not allow the buckle to release under the amount of force typically required. If your device would interfere with the vehicles compliance with these requirements, commercial establishments cannot legally install your device on customers seat belt assemblies.
Responsibility to Ensure Your Device is Free of Safety-Related Defects
As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are responsible for ensuring that your product is free of safety-related defects (see 49 U.S.C. 30118-30121). The agency does not determine the existence of safety defects in motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment except in the context of a defect proceeding.
Concerns About Degrading the Performance of Vehicle Safety Belts
If you should decide to manufacture the Detachable Seat Belt Release Button Protector, we would urge you to evaluate carefully whether your product would in any way degrade the performance of vehicle safety belts. For example, you should ensure that your product would not interfere with safety belt retraction or release in an emergency, that any adhesive or sharp edges used with your product would not cause deterioration of the safety belt webbing, and that your product would not obscure the information required by FMVSS No. 209 to be labeled on the webbing. Safety belt webbing is designed to have some "give" to help absorb crash forces. If your product were to make the webbing too stiff, it could raise safety concerns. Finally, you should be aware that originally-installed safety belts must meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 302. Again, we would encourage you to evaluate your product against the requirements of these standards to ascertain whether your product would degrade the performance of seat belts.
State Law May Apply
Additionally, the States have the authority to regulate the use of vehicles, and may have restrictions on the use of devices that restrict the release of seat belt buckles. We suggest that you check with your attorney or insurance company about State law considerations.
I have enclosed a brochure for new manufacturers that discusses the basic requirements of our standards and regulations, including the provisions relating to manufacturers' responsibilities to ensure that their products are free of safety-related defects. If you have any further questions please call Ms. Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke