Michael D. Witten
598 Eaton Ave.
Denuba, CA 93618
Dear Mr. Witten:
This responds to your letter concerning a device you have designed which, as you described, has "the purpose of positioning the cross over section of seat belts in automobiles. Later in the letter you refer to this device as the "Seat Belt Positioner." You request that this office provide you with the legal data regarding the manufacturing and marketing of items used as automobile accessories.
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. The agency does not approve, certify or endorse any vehicles or equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet all applicable standards. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.
There is currently no Federal motor vehicle safety standard that would apply to your product. We do have a standard (Standard 209, Seat belt assemblies) that sets forth requirements for new seat belt assemblies. However, since your product would not be installed as part of a new seat belt assembly, the standard would not apply.
While no Federal motor vehicle safety standard applies to your product, your device 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.
In addition, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and motor vehicle repair businesses are subject to 49 U.S.C. section 30122, which prohibits them from installing the device if the installation "makes inoperative" compliance with any safety standard. It appears unlikely from the nature of your product that it would be placed in vehicles by commercial businesses instead of consumers. However, if your product were to be installed by persons in those categories, they must ensure that its installation does not compromise the safety protection provided by the vehicle belt system. The prohibition of section 30122 does not apply to the actions of vehicle owners in adding to or otherwise modifying their vehicles or items of motor vehicle equipment.
Please note that the addition of any device to a vehicle's belt system raises possible safety concerns. With a device such as yours, the realigning of the shoulder belt could increase the likelihood that the wearer would twist toward the middle of the vehicle, so that the person could be partially or completely unrestrained by the shoulder belt. In addition, if the device introduced excessive slack into the belt system, the occupant's head would be more likely to contact the vehicle interior. Finally, you should be aware that originally installed safety belts must meet the requirements of Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials. We encourage you to evaluate your product against the requirements of this standard to ascertain whether it would degrade the flammability performance of safety belts.
I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Otto Matheke of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-5253.
Acting Chief Counsel