P.O. Box 504
S-565 28 Mullsjö, Sweden
Dear Mr. Karlsson:
This letter responds to your July 26, 1996, facsimile asking whether the automatic transmission gear selector design you are developing for GM/Opel complies with the June 7, 1995, amendment to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 114, Theft Protection (60 FR 30006). Vehicles manufactured after September 1, 1996, are required by S4.2.1(a)(2) of Standard No. 114 to "prevent removal of the key unless the transmission or transmission shift lever is locked in 'park' . . . ." Your transmission shift lever has a thumb button on top that must be depressed in order to move the lever out of any of the shift positions. Once the lever is between positions and the hand is removed, it will be pulled into one of the positions due to a spring-loaded device. You were concerned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while conducting compliance testing, might try to "fool" the system by putting the lever into the park position but keeping the thumb button depressed, removing the key with the left hand, and then pulling the lever back with the thumb button still depressed. Your concern is unfounded.
There are two tests relating to performance of the shift lock. The first, in S5.3(a), is for testing in all positions except park. Its purpose is to assure that the key can't be removed in those positions. The test procedure specifies that the lever shall be placed in "any position where it will remain without assistance" (emphasis added). This means that the hand will be removed from the lever (and the thumb button) prior to attempting to remove the key.
The second test, in S5.3(b), is for testing in the park position. Its purpose is to assure that, when a driver removes the key with the lever in park, the lever will be locked in that position and that children left behind in the vehicle won't be able to pull the lever back from the park position and cause a rollaway crash. The test procedure states: "[m]ove the shift mechanism to the 'park' position . . . Remove the key. Verify that the transmission shift mechanism or transmission is locked in 'park.'" We interpret the test procedures at issue as addressing only the actions that drivers might take as part of the normal driving task. This would include actions that drivers might take inadvertently, e.g., attempting to remove the key thinking that the vehicle is in park when it is not, but not deliberate actions to defeat the transmission shift lock.
In S5.3(b), the purpose of "mov[ing] the shift mechanism to the 'park' position" is to put the vehicle in park. Therefore, the normal procedure for accomplishing this action will be used, i.e., the hand will be removed from the shift lever before the key is removed. The action of putting the lever into the park position but keeping the thumb button depressed, removing the key with the left hand, and then pulling the lever back with the thumb button still depressed, would not be taken as part of the normal driving task. Indeed, the only conceivable reason for taking such a complicated action would be a deliberate effort to defeat the transmission shift lock.
I note, however, that when taking the next step in the S5.3(b) procedure and verifying that the shift lever is locked in park, any reasonable means to pull the lever back may be used, including depressing the thumb button. While Standard No. 114 is not intended to address deliberate misuse by a driver, it is intended to address broadly the various kinds of actions unsupervised children might take while playing in a car.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions about NHTSA's safety standards, please feel free to contact Paul Atelsek of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel