Mr. Donald Orlando
Orlando World Industries
7 Woodside Avenue
White Plains, NY 10604

Dear Mr. Orlando:

This responds to your letter concerning whether your "Seat Belt Buddy" would be affected by any Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards issued by this agency. You describe the product as "a stuffed toy animal with a slit in the center of the animal where you insert the seat belt through and then into the automobile's buckle."

By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. The agency does not approve, certify or endorse any vehicles or equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet all applicable standards. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.

There is currently no Federal motor vehicle safety standard that would apply to your product. We do have a standard (Standard 209, Seat belt assemblies) that sets forth requirements for new seat belt assemblies. We also have a standard (Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials) that sets forth flammability resistance requirements for the originally installed safety belts of the vehicle. However, since your product would not be part of a new seat belt assembly, these standards would not apply.

While no Federal motor vehicle safety standard applies to your product, your device is considered to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements of 49 U.S.C. ''30118-30121 concerning the recall and remedy of products with safety related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those and other manufacturer responsibilities. In the event you or NHTSA determines that your product contains a safety-related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.

In addition, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and motor vehicle repair businesses are subject to 49 U.S.C. section 30122, which prohibits them from installing the device if the installation "makes inoperative" compliance with any safety standard. It appears unlikely from the nature of your product that it would be placed in vehicles by commercial businesses instead of consumers. However, if your product were to be installed by persons in those categories, they must ensure that its installation does not compromise the safety protection provided by the vehicle belt system. For example, they must ensure that the Seat Belt Buddy does not impair the function of the safety belt or belt retractor, or vitiate the compliance of the belts with Standard No. 302. The prohibition of section 30122 does not apply to the actions of vehicle owners in adding to or otherwise modifying their vehicles or items of motor vehicle equipment.

Please note that the addition of any device to a vehicle's belt system raises possible safety concerns. Our safety standards require specific levels of performance for a vehicle's safety belt system. For example, Standard 208 has requirements that ensure that a vehicle's lap and shoulder belts are installed to distribute the crash forces over the skeletal structure of the occupant. The safety standards also have requirements for belts to automatically lock and retract. We urge you to carefully evaluate whether your product would in any way compromise the safety protection provided by the vehicle belt system, and whether instructions to the consumer are needed to advise about the proper use of the product. Among other things, you should evaluate whether children are likely to play with the "Seat Belt Buddy" in a manner that either introduces excessive slack in the shoulder belt, thereby reducing the protection provided by that belt in the event of a crash, or the inadvertent unlatching of the belt system. Finally, since the originally installed safety belts must meet the requirements of Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials, we encourage you not to degrade the flammability performance of safety belts.

I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Edward Glancy of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely,

Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel

Enclosure

ref:208#209 d:1/5/95