Margol & Pennington, P.A.
Suite 1702 American Heritage Tower
76 South Laura Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Dear Mr. Pennington:
This responds to your letter concerning the rear seats of a 1979 Porsche 911 SC, which were not equipped with any type of seat belt. You asked two questions relating to whether these seats should have been equipped with seat belts. Your questions are addressed below.
1. Did the manufacturer's designation of "two front" passenger seats eliminate any obligation on the part of the manufacturer to provide seat belts in the rear seats under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208?
As explained below, a manufacturer's designation that a vehicle has two front seats does not eliminate the obligation to provide seat belts at rear seats, if those positions are "designated seating positions."
By way of background information, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA has exercised this authority to establish Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR 571.208), which specifies performance requirements for the protection of vehicle occupants in crashes. Standard No. 208 required passenger cars manufactured on or after September 1, 1973 and before September 1, 1986, to have either a Type 1 (lap) or Type 2 (lap/shoulder) seat belt assembly at each rear "designated seating position."
The term "designated seating position" is defined at 49 CFR 571.3. For vehicles manufactured before September 1, 1980, the term "designated seating position" was defined as:
any plan view location intended by the manufacturer to provide seating accommodation while the vehicle is in
motion, for a person at least as large as a fifth percentile adult female, except auxiliary seating accommodations such as temporary or folding jump seats.
In a May 22, 1978, notification to vehicle manufacturers, the agency stated that manufacturers are responsible for determining the number of seating positions that are in the vehicle. The agency also stated:
This does not mean, however, that the manufacturer's designation will be accepted by the agency if there are additional, obvious seating positions that are likely to be used by occupants while the vehicle is in motion. The agency unquestionably intends to require protection for all vehicle occupants.
Thus, a manufacturer's specification that a vehicle has two front seats did not eliminate Standard No. 208's requirement for a seat belt assembly at each rear seat, if those locations met the above definition.
2. Did the Porsche 911 SC comply with, or did it violate, the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208?
NHTSA cannot make a determination as to whether a vehicle complied with applicable safety standards outside a compliance proceeding. However, I can advise you of the factors the agency would look at to determine if the rear locations are designated seating positions. If those locations are designated seating positions, they should have been equipped with a seat belt assembly when originally manufactured.
The May 22, 1978, notice provides a good summary of the agency's position. That notice states:
the agency will consider any position ... capable of accommodating a person at least as large as a fifth percentile adult female to be a "designated seating position", if the overall seat configuration and design is such that the manufacturer knows the position is likely to be used as a seating position while the vehicle is in motion.
I note that the hip breadth of a sitting fifth percentile female is approximately 13 inches, and the sitting height is approximately 31 inches. These are the measurements NHTSA would consider in determining whether a position is capable of accommodating a fifth percentile female.
I hope this information has been helpful. If you have other questions or need some additional information, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel
ref:571#208 d:6/6/95 The definition was amended effective September 1, 1980. Copies of the September 28, 1978 notice of proposed rulemaking and April 19, 1979 final rule are enclosed. 43 FR 21893. A copy of this notice is enclosed. While that notice was focused on front seats, the rationale would apply to any seat.