Roger C. Fairchild, Esq.
Shutler & Low
14500 Avion Parkway
Suite 300
Chantilly, VA 22021-1101

Dear Mr. Fairchild:

This responds to your letter requesting an interpretation of the "one-truck credit" provisions of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208. I apologize for the delay in our response. You requested our concurrence that a multipurpose passenger vehicle equipped with an air bag and automatic seat belt at the driver's seating position, and a Type 2 manual belt at the right front passenger seating position, would count as a complying vehicle under the automatic restraint phase-in (through model year 1998), and asked how such a vehicle should be tested to comply with Standard No. 208.

The answer to your question differs depending on the model year. This difference relates to the fact that NHTSA is phasing in two separate requirements during this time period: (1) the requirement for light trucks to be equipped with automatic restraints (the phase-in for this requirement takes place during model years 1995-1997) and (2) the ISTEA requirement for light trucks to be equipped with air bags and manual lap/shoulder belts (the phase-in for this requirement takes place during model year 1998).

As discussed below, for purposes of the light truck automatic restraint phase-in, a vehicle with an air bag and automatic belt at the driver position would count as a complying vehicle under the "one-truck credit" provisions, provided that it met Standard No. 208's dynamic crash test requirements with the automatic seat belt detached. However, such a vehicle would not count toward the ISTEA requirement that 80 percent of a manufacturer's model year 1998 light trucks be equipped with an air bag and manual lap/shoulder belt. Thus, a manufacturer could produce such vehicles during model year 1998 only to the extent that such vehicles comprised 20 percent or less of the manufacturer's light truck fleet.

Under the "one-truck credit" provisions, a vehicle equipped with an air bag for the driver position and a manual safety belt for the right front passenger position is generally counted as a vehicle complying with the automatic crash protection requirements (for both the driver and passenger). The option was limited in duration so as not to delay the introduction of automatic crash protection for the right front passenger. See 56 FR 12480-81, March 26, 1991.

The specific language implementing the "one-truck credit" provisions, for the light truck automatic restraint phase-in, states that each vehicle "whose driver's seating position complies with the requirements of S4.1.2.1(a) by means not including any type of seat belt and whose right front passenger's seating position is equipped with a manual Type 2 seat belt that complies with S5.1 of this standard" is counted as a vehicle complying with the automatic crash protection requirements. (S4.2.5.4(c) and S4.2.5.5(a)(2); emphasis added.)

In order for a vehicle with a driver side air bag and automatic seat belt to qualify under this provision, it would be necessary for the vehicle to comply with the requirements of S4.1.2.1(a) with the automatic belt detached. This follows from the language specifying that the requirements of S4.1.2.1(a) must be met "by means not including any type of seat belt." Of course, the vehicle would also need to comply with Standard No. 208's crash test requirements with the dummy belted. See S4.1.2.1(c)(2) and S4.5.3.

A vehicle with an air bag and automatic belt at the driver position would not count toward the ISTEA requirement that 80 percent of a manufacturer's model year 1998 light trucks be equipped with an air bag and manual lap/shoulder belt. As you correctly note, S4.5.3 of Standard No. 208 generally permits automatic belts to be used in place of any seat belt assembly otherwise required under section 4 of the standard. However, S4.5.3.1 provides that an automatic belt may not be used pursuant to S4.5.3 to meet the requirements for "a Type 2 seat belt assembly at any seating position equipped with an inflatable restraint system pursuant to," among other references, S4.2.6.1. (Emphasis added.) S4.2.6.1 is the section which implements ISTEA's requirement that at least 80 percent of a manufacturer's model year 1998 light trucks be equipped with an air bag and manual lap/shoulder belt. While vehicles coming within the "one-truck credit" provisions generally could be used to meet the 80 percent requirement, S4.5.3.1 would preclude such vehicles from having an automatic belt at the driver position (the seating position that would be "equipped with an inflatable restraint pursuant to . . . S4.2.6.1").

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call Edward Glancy of my staff at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely,

Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel ref: 208 d:4/24/96

Like your letter, our letter uses the term "model year" for purposes of simplicity. Standard No. 208's phase-in requirements are expressed in terms of production periods, which do not always correspond to model years.