Pacific Quest International
9 Egret Lane
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Dear Mr. Chen:
This responds to your April 9, 1996, letter concerning a product that you are seeking to develop, called Athe BabyBelt.@ You ask whether the BabyBelt is subject to any Federal standards or safety guidelines, and also ask if we have any safety concerns about the product.
You describe the BabyBelt in a letter and sketch to the agency. I note that you had marked the word AProprietary@ on the letter. In an April 11, 1996, telephone conversation with Deirdre Fujita of my staff, you stated that you had no objections to our placing a copy of your letter and sketch in the agency=s public docket, which is a routine part of the interpretation process.
According to your letter, the BabyBelt is a device designed for use with forward-facing child restraint systems, to Asafely secure a child safety seat to the front passenger bucket style auto seat.@ The BabyBelt consists of Aan automobile grade nylon web belt (approximately 52 inches long), a positive retention buckle system (two pieces, made out of stamped steel), and an adjustable velcro attachment sleeve.@ The BabyBelt is placed through the frame of a child seat, Aand then wrapped around the back rest of the passenger seat. The belt is then tightened down to prevent the baby seat [sic] from moving in the case of sudden deceleration.@ You state that the BabyBelt is to supplement, and not replace, the vehicle=s belt system as the means for attaching a child seat to the vehicle seat. The product will be permanently labeled with a warning that the BabyBelt is supplemental to the vehicle belt system.
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. NHTSA does not, however, approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. Instead, Congress has established a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on the information set forth in your letter.
There currently are no Federal motor vehicle safety standards that directly apply to the BabyBelt. Our standard for "child restraint systems," Standard 213, applies to "any device except Type I or Type II seat belts, designed for use in a motor vehicle or aircraft to restrain, seat, or position children who weigh 50 pounds or less." The standard does not apply to accessory items, such as a supplemental belt that is used with a child safety seat. NHTSA also does not consider the BabyBelt to be a seat belt assembly subject to Standard 209, as it is a supplemental accessory to the existing seat belt assembly and not intended to be used alone.
While no standard applies to the BabyBelt, your product 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.
You ask us to discuss any concerns we might have about the BabyBelt. One concern we have relates to the strength of the vehicle seat back to which the BabyBelt would be attached. Vehicle manufacturers must ensure that their vehicles comply with the requirements of Standard 207, Seating Systems. Among other requirements, Standard 207 specifies strength requirements for the vehicle seat back, to minimize the likelihood of seat failure in a crash. When the BabyBelt is attached to the vehicle seat back as shown in your sketch, in the event of a crash the seat back will be subjected to forces resulting from the loading of the child seat and child occupant. In the absence of the BabyBelt, these forces are not normally imposed on the vehicle seat back, but are instead transferred to the vehicle structure through the seat belt anchorages. We suggest that you evaluate the strength of vehicle seats to ensure that they are strong enough for the loads imposed by the child seat and child occupant through the BabyBelt.
Another concern relates to where in the vehicle a child seat would have to be located to use the BabyBelt. Because the BabyBelt secures a child seat by wrapping around the back of the seat back on which the child seat is attached, the product can only be used with bucket style seats (as indicated on your sketch) or with a split back seat (as you informed Ms. Fujita). Using the BabyBelt with a bucket style seat necessitates placing the child restraint in the front seat of most passenger cars, because bucket seats are provided in the front, and not in the rear. Children are safer riding in the rear seats of vehicles than in the front seat. We recommend your instructions avoid encouraging consumers to place a child seat in the front seat if the child restraint can be placed in the rear. You might also consider informing them that, according to accident statistics, children are safer when properly restrained in the rear seating positions than in the front seating positions. Such a statement is required to be in the instructions for child restraints systems (49 CFR '571.213, S188.8.131.52).
Related to the concern discussed directly above, it appears the BabyBelt could possibly be used in the rear seat in a passenger car that has a split back seat, but even there it cannot be used in the center rear seating position. The rear center seating position is generally the safest.
Finally, you state in your letter that the BabyBelt will have a permanent warning label indicating that the belt is not to replace the vehicle=s belt system as a means of attaching a child seat to the vehicle seat. We agree that the warning is critical to reduce the likelihood that consumers may mistakenly use the BabyBelt as the primary means of attaching their child seats to the vehicle seat, and urge you to make the permanent warning clear and conspicuous. For your information, passenger vehicles manufactured since September 1, 1995, are required to have a locking mechanism for the lap belt or lap belt portion of lap and shoulder belts, to enable them Ato be capable of being used to tightly secure child safety seats without the necessity of the user=s attaching any device to the seat belt webbing, retractor, or any other part of the vehicle . . . .@ Enclosed is an October 13, 1993 final rule on this Alockability@ requirement. It appears that the requirement will address some of the same securement problems that you hope to address with the BabyBelt.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Fujita at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel
Enclosure ref:213 d:5/15/96