Joseph W. Phebus, Esq.
Phebus, Winkelmann, Wong & Bramfeld
136 West Main Street
P.O. Box 1008
Urbana, Illinois 61801-9008

Dear Mr. Phebus:

This responds to your letter of May 7, asking about warning requirements for the lap belts provided with "motorized passive seat belts, such as utilized by Ford Motor Company." We assume that you are referring to a seating position equipped with both a motorized automatic shoulder belt certified to the automatic protection requirements of Standard No. 208, and with a separate manual lap belt. You ask whether certain warnings about fastening the lap belt were (a) required, (b) permitted, or (c) prohibited.

The lap belt for such a seating position was not required by the Federal motor vehicle safety standards but was instead voluntarily provided by the vehicle manufacturer to provide additional occupant protection. While automatic belts are required to have a special warning system (see S4.5.3.3 of Standard No. 208), no warning requirement applied to the voluntarily provided lap belt.

While none of the warnings you ask about were required, there is an issue, discussed further below, of whether they were permitted. Manufacturers may provide features in addition to those required by a standard, as long as the standard's requirements are met.

The specific warnings you ask about are as follows:

1. "That the chime that sounds when the lap belt is not buckled should be repeated at least twice at intervals of approximately one minute if the belt is not buckled."

Such a warning would not be permitted. S4.5.3.3 requires a warning system for automatic belts that, among other things, "activates a continuous or intermittent audible signal for a period of not less than 4 seconds and not more than 8 seconds and that activates a continuous or flashing warning light visible to the driver for not less than 60 seconds," to warn that the belt is not in use. Since the purpose of the audible signal is to

remind the driver to buckle up, it would be permissible to use the same signal to warn that the voluntarily provided lap belt is not in use. However, since the audible signal could not be activated for a period of more than 8 seconds, the system you describe would not be permitted.

I also note that NHTSA is limited by its authorizing statute as to what types of audible signals it may require, or permit as a means of compliance, to indicate that a safety belt is not in use. Under 49 U.S.C. 30124, a motor vehicle safety standard "may not require or allow a manufacturer to comply with the standard by using ... a buzzer designed to indicate a safety belt is not in use, except a buzzer that operates only during the 8-second period after the ignition is turned to the "start" or "on" position." (Emphasis added.)

2. "The seat belt symbol light should remain on for at least one minute after the ignition is turned on and then flash off and on at 0.5 CPS for about 30 seconds and then remain lighted if the lap belt is not buckled. Further, the brightness of the signal should be increased when the dashboard lights are not on."

Assuming that the seat belt symbol light is only activated if the seat belts are not in use, such a system would be permissible. Since the purpose of the warning light for automatic belts is to remind the driver to buckle up, it would be permissible to use the same warning light to indicate that the voluntarily provided lap belt is not in use. Unlike the time period specified for audible signals, S4.5.3.3 specifies a minimum but not a maximum time for activation of the warning light. Therefore, the warning light could remain activated to indicate that a lap belt is not buckled.

3. "There should be an express instruction "fasten lap belt" which is located so as to be easily observed by both the driver and the occupant of the right front seat."

The Federal motor vehicle safety standards would not prohibit such a message.

4. "That sun visor warnings other than those used by Ford may be used which would employ colors and signal words and would communicate the nature of the hazards and potential consequences associated with not wearing the lap belts."

The sun visor warnings provided by Ford were provided voluntarily, and the Federal motor vehicle safety standards would not prohibit different messages. We have assumed that the vehicle does not have air bags. Standard No. 208 requires

specific sun visor warnings for vehicles equipped with air bags and restricts any additional information on the visor. See S4.5.1(b).

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


Samuel J. Dubbin

Chief Counsel