Orange Park, FL 32073
Dear Mr. Farmand:
This responds to your letter of April 27, 1995. Your letter concerns a law suit in which you represent plaintiffs injured in an automobile accident. In this law suit, the counsel for the defendant has moved to amend his answer to assert that 49 CFR 571.208, paragraph S22.214.171.124(c)(2) requires each state to allow for mitigation of damages in any seat belt use law and that paragraph preempts the Florida mandatory seat belt law. According to your letter, the Florida law "does not allow a mitigation of damages defense with respect to an alleged failure to wear a seat belt." As explained below, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agrees with you that the Florida safety belt use law is neither expressly nor impliedly preempted by Federal law.
Purpose of Paragraph S126.96.36.199(c)(2)
Before discussing the issue of preemption, I want to discuss the background and purpose of Paragraph S188.8.131.52(c)(2). That paragraph was added to Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR 571.208) as part of a final rule issued July 17, 1984 concerning automatic restraints (49 FR 28962). That final rule required all new cars to have automatic protection (air bags or automatic belts) starting in the 1990 model year. The final rule included a provision that the automatic restraint requirement would be rescinded if the Secretary of Transportation determined, not later than April 1, 1989, that a sufficient number of States had enacted belt use laws meeting certain minimum criteria to cover at least two-thirds of the U.S. population (paragraph S4.1.5). Under S4.1.5, the Secretary was not required to make any determination about any State safety belt laws. In fact, the Secretary never did so, in part because not enough States adopted mandatory seat belt use laws of any
sort prior to April 1, 1989. Because no determination was made under S4.1.5, the automatic restraint requirements are now in effect for all passenger cars.
The minimum criteria were set forth in S184.108.40.206 of Standard No. 208 . One of the criteria was "a provision specifying that the violation of the belt usage requirement may be used to mitigate damages..." (S220.127.116.11(c)(2)). However, S4.1.5 neither purported to require nor was intended to require States to enact safety belt use laws. In addition, S4.1.5 did not require that any State safety belt use laws had to incorporate the minimum criteria of S18.104.22.168. Paragraph S4.1.5 merely provided that the Secretary would rescind the automatic restraint requirement if he or she determined that a sufficient number of States enacted laws which met the criteria of S22.214.171.124 by April 1, 1989.
The Florida safety belt use law is not and never has been either expressly or impliedly preempted by Federal law.
Standard No. 208 was issued under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 which expressly preempts state laws only to the extent provided by section 30103. That section provides for the express preemption of State motor vehicle safety standards that are not identical to Federal standards. However, the Florida seat belt law is not a motor vehicle safety standard within the meaning of Chapter 301, since it does not regulate motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment performance. Accordingly, the Florida law is not expressly preempted.
The Florida law is not impliedly preempted because (1) Congress has not occupied the field of regulation of the behavior of motor vehicle occupants; and (2) the Florida seat belt law does not conflict with any Federal law or interfere with the objectives of Federal law.
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:208 d:5/9/95 Your letter correctly notes that this provision was deleted from Standard No. 208 by a final rule issued on September 2, 1993 (58 FR 46551).