Director, Safety Affairs & Regulations
General Motors Corporation (GM)
Mail Code 480-111-S56, Box 9010
Engineering Building 1-11
30200 Mound Rd.
Warren, MI 48090-9010
Dear Mr. Bennett:
This responds to a question you had in a petition for rulemaking concerning a "uniform child restraint anchorage" (UCRA) system that your company developed for attaching add-on child seats in vehicles. You ask whether the UCRA system may be installed prior to completion of the requested rulemaking. The answer is yes.
The UCRA system consists of two lower anchorages near the intersection of the vehicle seat back and cushion (the "bight" line), and an upper tether anchorage. The lower anchorages are each equipped with a latchplate that is smaller than and incompatible with the latchplate provided in seat belt systems for adult passengers. Child seats would be manufactured to have equipment that is compatible with the UCRA system, such as small buckles and a tether to attach to the small latches at the vehicle seat bite line and top tether anchorage.
Your company, as a member of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, along with specified companies of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers and the Juvenile Products Manufacturer's Association, petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require vehicle manufacturers to provide a UCRA system in their vehicles, and require child restraint manufacturers to provide child seats that are "compatible with both the UCRA system (used alone) and the existing vehicle seat belt systems (used alone)."
Among other things, the petition asks whether "1) the proposed UCRA system can be incorporated into future vehicles, and 2) compatible CRSs can be offered for sale, provided the CRS and vehicle belt systems continue to comply with current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) requirements." From various conversations between Jack Havelin and Dick Humphrey of GM and George Mouchahoir and Deirdre Fujita of NHTSA, we understand you to ask whether the UCRA system may be installed on
vehicles, and compatible componentry installed on child seats, before completion of the requested rulemaking on UCRAs, if the vehicles and child seats meet the standards currently applying to them.
Our answer is the UCRA may be installed. The preamble for the 1979 final rule adopting dynamic test requirements in Standard 213 (44 FR 72131) addressed the issue of "vehicle specific" child restraints, i.e., "systems uniquely designed for installation in a particular make and model which do not utilize vehicle seat belts for anchorages." 44 FR at 72136. The agency emphasized in the preamble that standardizing all child restraints, including vehicle specific ones, by requiring them to be capable of being secured to a vehicle seat by a lap belt is an important way to prevent misuse. However, the agency also stated:
[S]ince vehicle specific child restraints can provide adequate levels of protection when installed correctly, NHTSA is not prohibiting the manufacture of these devices. The new standard requires them to meet the performance requirements of the standard when secured by a vehicle lap belt. As long as child restraints can pass the performance requirements of the standard secured only by a lap belt, a manufacturer is free to specify other 'vehicle specific' installation conditions." 44 FR 72131, 72136; December 13, 1979.
We believe that the system you describe is a "vehicle specific" system similar to that discussed in the preamble. While the discussion quoted above pertained to vehicle specific child seats, by implication the child seat could be attached to the vehicle in a way other than by use of a lap belt. Generally speaking, our standards do not prohibit manufacturers from voluntarily installing items and features on their vehicles or equipment that are not regulated by the safety standards. The only limit is that the vehicle or equipment must meet applicable safety standards when equipped with the voluntary items and features, and must contain no safety-related defect.
Thus, the UCRA system you wish to voluntarily install would be permitted, provided that the vehicle meets all standards currently applying to the vehicle, e.g., standards for seat belt assemblies and anchorages, occupant crash protection and seat strength. Components may be voluntarily installed on a child seat to make the seat compatible with a UCRA, provided that the child seat can pass all requirements of the standard, including the requirement that the seat meet the dynamic test requirements when secured only by a lap belt.
However, please note the following concerns. First, under S5.6 of Standard 213, child seat manufacturers are required to provide step-by-step instructions for securing the child restraint in vehicle-specific applications, as well as providing such instructions for securing the child restraint when it is used in vehicles for which no vehicle-specific installation is recommended.
Second, under NHTSA's defect authority, manufacturers must ensure that their design and production of the UCRA system does not result in unsafe attachments between vehicle and child seats.
Third, assuming that NHTSA issues a rule specifying requirements for a universal child restraint attachment system, such a rule could have requirements that differ from those suggested in your petition. Manufacturers would be responsible for ensuring that UCRA systems installed on vehicles and child seats on or after the effective date of the rule comply with the adopted requirements.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Fujita at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel