- Original Equipment Manufacturers (i.e. Ford, GM, Chrysler) offering the [ ] as an after-market device at dealerships after the vehicle has been purchased.
- Original Equipment Manufacturers (i.e. Ford, GM, Chrysler) offering the [ ] as an option during production.
- The technology being offered on the Federal Supply Schedule for retrofitting on government vehicles.
- The [ ] being offered commercially as an after-market device.
- Vehicle manufacturers (i.e. Ford, GM, Chrysler) offering the [ ] for installation at dealerships after the vehicle has been purchased.
- Vehicle manufacturers (i.e. Ford, GM, Chrysler) offering the [ ] as an option on new vehicles and installing the device during production.
- Installation of the device on vehicles owned by the government.
- The [ ] being offered commercially as an after-market device.
Dear [ ]:
This responds to your letter asking about the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, as they relate to a device being developed by your company. I note first that your letter requests that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) accord confidential treatment for certain materials related to your request. As these materials are not needed to respond to your questions and you have agreed to their return, we are enclosing them with this response.
According to your letter, the device, which you describe as the [ ], would prevent the shift mechanism of a vehicle from being moved out of the "Park" position until the "driver and/or passenger seat belts are fastened." The device would also sound an audible alarm as long as the seat belts are not fastened when the vehicle's shift mechanism is not in the "Park" position. Specifically, you ask if the statutes and regulations administered by NHTSA would prohibit sale or use of the [ ] under a number of different conditions:
The issues raised by your letter are discussed below.
By way of background, NHTSA administers a statute requiring that motor vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States or imported into the United States be manufactured so as to reduce the likelihood of motor vehicle crashes and of deaths and injuries when crashes do occur. We refer to that statute as the Vehicle Safety Act. It is codified at 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq.
One of the agency's functions under the Vehicle Safety Act is to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards. These standards specify safety performance requirements for motor vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment. Manufacturers of motor vehicles must certify compliance with all applicable safety standards and permanently apply a label to each vehicle stating that the vehicle complies with all applicable FMVSSs.
Requirements for audible and visual warnings for seat belts are established in S7 of FMVSS 208. S7.3 specifies that the driver's seating position be equipped with a seat belt warning system that activates, under specified circumstances, a continuous or intermittent audible signal for a period of "not less than 4 seconds and not more than 8 seconds."
On October 27, 1974, President Ford signed into law a bill that prohibited any Federal motor vehicle safety standard from requiring or permitting as a means of compliance any seat belt interlock system. The language in this bill was later codified as 49 U.S.C. 30124. This section states:
A motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter may not require or allow a manufacturer to comply with the standard by using a safety belt interlock designed to prevent starting or operating a motor vehicle if an occupant is not using a safety belt or 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.
Given this statutory provision, NHTSA does not have the authority to require, or specify as a compliance option, an interlock system that prevents a vehicle from being operated if an occupant's seat belt remains unfastened. However, the statute does not prohibit vehicle manufacturers from voluntarily providing such an interlock or a system that sounds an audible signal outside the 8 second period.
In a letter dated June 7, 2001 to Mr. Bob Archer of Longacre Associates, we indicated that a vehicle manufacturer wishing to provide a voluntary audible signal that sounds after the 8 second period specified in S7.3 of Standard No. 208 and 30124 may do so, but must provide some means for differentiating the voluntarily provided signal from the required signal. We suggested that such differentiation could be provided in various ways, e.g., by time (the voluntarily provided signal begins well after the required signal ends) or sound (the voluntarily provided signal has a different sound than the required signal).
It is our position that a device such as your [ ], if installed in addition to, rather than in place of, the warning system required by S7.3, may be offered either as an original equipment option or an aftermarket item if the device is configured such that it is differentiated from the warning system required by NHTSA. Therefore, any audible warning provided by the device should either sound after the required warning or have a different sound.
Your letter asks whether the sale of the [ ], or a similar device, would be permissible under four different scenarios:
In the first scenario, where the device would be installed by a new vehicle dealer after the vehicle has been purchased, the [ ] could be incorporated into new vehicles in the manner we describe. However, installation of the [ ] by the dealer must not negatively impact any required safety system. After the first sale of a vehicle, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses are prohibited from "knowingly making inoperative" any device or element of design installed on or in that vehicle in compliance with an applicable standard. In general, the "make inoperative" prohibition (49 U.S.C. 30122) requires businesses that modify motor vehicles to ensure that they do not remove, disconnect, or degrade the performance of safety equipment installed in compliance with an applicable standard. Although this section expressly states that the prohibition does not apply to seat belt interlocks or buzzers (49 U.S.C. 30122(d)), dealers and repair businesses installing the [ ] may not make other required safety equipment inoperative. Violations of this prohibition are punishable by civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.
In addition, if installed after sale of the vehicle, the [ ] would be considered "motor vehicle equipment" for purposes of federal law protecting the public against products that have safety defects. Therefore, if the [ ] proved to contain a defect (either in manufacture, design, or performance) that relates to motor vehicle safety, the manufacturer of record, presumably the vehicle manufacturer, would be required to conduct a recall campaign to notify owners and to remedy the defect free of charge.
In the second scenario, where the [ ] is installed in a vehicle by the vehicle manufacturer during production, the manufacturer would be responsible for certifying that the vehicle, with the [ ] installed, complied with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. In the event that the [ ] contained a defect that related to motor vehicle safety or the vehicle did not comply with applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards, the vehicle manufacturer would be responsible for conducting a recall campaign.
The third scenario, which involves installation of the device on vehicles owned by the Federal government, would not differ from the fourth scenario, where the device is offered for sale to consumers. In both cases, the "make inoperative" provisions would apply if the device is installed by a repair business or dealer but would not apply if the owner performed the installation. In addition, where the [ ] is offered for sale for installation as an aftermarket item, i.e. for installation in a vehicle that has already been sold to an end user, it would be considered to be "motor vehicle equipment" for purposes of federal law protecting the public against products that have safety defects. Therefore, if the [ ] contained a safety defect, the manufacturer of the device would be required to conduct a recall campaign to notify owners and to remedy the defect free of charge.
Finally, I note that your letter asks what procedures are available for modifying or repealing 49 U.S.C. 30124. NHTSA welcomes the adoption of technology that results in increases in seat belt use. You may contact your elected representatives about this or any other issue relating to our agency.
I hope this information answers your questions. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Otto Matheke of my staff at (202) 366-2992.