Patricia Mandarino, President
1049 Larkin Road
Spring Hill, FL 34608
Dear Ms. Mandarino:
This responds to your letter asking about the requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the Angel Guard, an aftermarket product you have developed that would prevent children in child restraint systems from pressing a vehicles seat belt release button. As explained below, 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.
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. NHTSA also investigates safety-related defects. The following represents our opinion based on our understanding of the information provided by your letter.
Description of the Angel Guard
You enclose a sample of the Angel Guard and describe it as a seat belt release cover which deters small children from disengaging the seat belt which is holding their car or booster seat in place. The Angel Guard appears to be a plastic box-like cover. You state that the device is one piece-no moving parts, and would be secured on existing seat belt assembly systems in motor vehicles. You did not provide instructions on how the device is attached to the seat belt.
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. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials, generally does not apply to aftermarket equipment items.
Although we do not have any standards that directly apply to your product, as a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you would be responsible for ensuring that your product is free of safety-related defects (see 49 U.S.C. 30118-30121). I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those responsibilities.
There are other requirements of this agency of which you should be aware. Section 30122 of 49 U.S.C. (Making safety devices and elements inoperative) 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 performance 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 specified by FMVSS No. 209. If your device would interfere with the vehicles compliance with these requirements, commercial establishments installing your device on customers seat belt assemblies would be subject to fines for violating the make inoperative provision.
Manufacturers of devices that interfere with the operation of the seat belt release should carefully evaluate the effect of the product on the performance of vehicle safety belts. For example, you should ensure that your product would not interfere with seat belt retraction or release in an emergency, that any sharp edges that your product has would not cause deterioration of the seat belt webbing, that your product would not obscure the information required by FMVSS No. 209 to be labeled on the webbing, and that the buckle will be able to be released should emergency egress from the vehicle be necessary. Further, seat belt webbing is designed to have some "give" to help absorb crash forces. If your product were to present a design that could harm an occupant, it would raise safety concerns. Finally, you should be aware that originally-installed safety belts must meet the flammability resistance requirements of FMVSS No. 302. Again, we would encourage you to evaluate your product against the requirements of these standards.
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.
Enclosed is the sample of your product that you sent us. If you have any further questions please call Ms. Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke