Norwegian Trade Council
800 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022-7604
Dear Mr. Brekke:
This responds to your letter asking about the legality of "Belly Safe," a device to alter the positioning of vehicle lap and shoulder belts, for the advertised purposes of improving the fit of the belts on pregnant women. As described in the material you enclosed, two long straps attached to the "Belly Safe" are attached around the back of the seat. The occupant then sits on the "Belly Safe," attaches the safety belt, brings two straps from the "Belly Safe" up between the legs, and attaches the lap belt through the Velcro on those straps.
The following discussion explains the effect of our regulations on such products and concerns NHTSA has about this specific product.
By way of background information, this agency has the authority to issue safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. This agency does not have a safety standard that directly applies to belt positioning devices. Our safety standards for "Occupant Crash Protection," (Standard No. 208) and "Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages" (Standard No. 210) apply to new, completed vehicles. In addition, our safety standard for "Seat Belt Assemblies" (Standard No. 209) applies to new seat belt assemblies. Because the "Belly Safe" is neither installed as part of a completed vehicle nor as part of a seat belt assembly, none of these regulations apply to the device.
While none of these standards apply to the "Belly Safe," the manufacturer of the product is subject to federal requirements concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety (49 U.S.C. 30118-30121). The agency does not determine the existence of defects except in the context of a defect proceeding. In addition, while it is unlikely that the "Belly Safe" would be installed by a motor vehicle manufacturer,
distributor, dealer or repair business, 49 U.S.C. 30122 prohibits those businesses from installing the device if the installation "makes inoperative" compliance with any safety standard.
NHTSA is concerned that the "Belly Safe" could be used in a way that adversely affects crash forces on the occupant. Standard No. 208 includes requirements that have the effect of ensuring that the lap and shoulder belts distribute the crash forces to the occupant's skeletal structure, a part of the body that can better withstand the forces. For example, Standard No. 208 requires the shoulder belt and the lap belt to intersect off of the abdominal area. The "Belly Safe" places an object between the legs of the occupant. This change in the distribution of crash forces could have serious safety implications for the wearer of the belt.
There are other concerns about the "Belly Safe." The realigning of the lap belt through the "Belly Safe" could increase the amount of webbing in the belt system. If the straps which attach around the back of the seat or the Velcro holding the lap belt are unable to withstand the forces of a crash, there would be excessive slack in the lap belt. Slack in the lap belt would increase the risk of the occupant sliding under the lap belt (submarining) and slack in the belt system generally introduces higher crash forces, both of which would increase the risk of injury. In addition, should a non-pregnant occupant use the "Belly Safe," the device could do more harm than good.
I have enclosed a consumer information sheet titled "Pregnancy: Protecting Your Unborn Child in a Car." This sheet explains that the lap belt should be placed low, across the hips and over the upper thighs. If a woman takes the time to adjust the belt as recommended (an action also needed to install the "Belly Safe"), NHTSA is unaware of any need for a device to keep the lap belt in this position.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel
Enclosure ref:208 d:7/14/94