Ms. Mary Lowry
982 Rollingwood Loop, Apt. 114
Casselberry, FL 32707
Dear Ms. Lowry:
This responds to your letter asking for permission to have an automobile repair shop disconnect a malfunctioning seat belt warning system in a 1993 model year passenger car.You state that the warning light and "beeper" in this vehicle have developed "a mind of its own."The warning light and audible warning in the car originally functioned properly and would cease operating when the belt was fastened, but now remain on after the seat belt has been latched.
As discussed below, it is our opinion that, under the facts stated above, a dealer or repair facility would not violate Federal law by disconnecting the malfunctioning warning system.Further, Federal law does not require dealers or owners to repair a malfunctioning seat belt warning system.
Nevertheless, we strongly urge that you have the system repaired, so that the vehicle continues to provide maximum safety protection for all occupants during the remainder of its life.Seat belt use is the single most important step that people can take to reduce their risk of injury while riding in a vehicle.We also note that dealers and repair facilities might be affected by State laws in this area, including ones for vehicle inspection.
By way of background information, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, required 1993 model year cars to be equipped with seat belt warning system that would remind occupants at the front outboard seating positions to fasten their seat belts when the key was placed in the ignition and moved to the "on" or "start" positions.
Whether a dealer or repair business could disconnect the seat belt warning system is determined by Section 30122 of Chapter 301 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C. 30122).Section 30122(b) prohibits certain businesses from disconnecting or otherwise defeating a required safety device:
(b)Prohibition. A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard . . .
However, since the belt warning system in your vehicle is malfunctioning and is already partially inoperative, we would not consider any subsequent disconnection of the warning system as making it fully inoperative.I note, however, that in servicing the vehicle, the dealer or repair shop must not make another part of the vehicle or element of design inoperative with respect to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards.
In closing, we ask that you contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline about this problem, at 800-424-9393. The report that you make, and other vehicle owners may make, are important information that helps the agency in determining if other vehicles like yours are experiencing the same or similar problems.This information helps us to determine if vehicles contain defects that may have an impact on safety.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please contact Mr. Otto Matheke of my staff at (202) 366-2992.