[Federal Register Volume 75, Number 124 (Tuesday, June 29, 2010)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 37343-37350]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2010-15773]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Part 571

[Docket No. NHTSA-2010-0061]

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Occupant Crash Protection

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 
Department of Transportation.

ACTION: Request for comments.


SUMMARY: This document requests public comments on a petition for 
rulemaking submitted by Public Citizen and Advocates for Highway and 
Auto Safety, to amend the Federal motor vehicle safety standard on 
occupant crash protection to require automobile manufacturers to 
install seat belt reminder systems for rear designated seating 
positions in light passenger vehicles. The document discusses the 
agency's research and findings as well as our knowledge of the 
different types of rear seat belt reminder systems. In general, we are 
encouraged by new methods to increase seat belt use. NHTSA requests 
comments and information to assist the agency in determining whether to 
grant or deny the petition.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before August 30, 2010.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments (identified by the DOT Docket ID 
Number above) by any of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting 
     Mail: Docket Management Facility; U.S. Department of 
Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., West Building Ground Floor, 
Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
     Hand Delivery or Courier: West Building Ground Floor, Room 
W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 
5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, except Federal Holidays.
     Fax: 202-493-2251.
    Instructions: For detailed instructions on submitting comments and 
additional information on the rulemaking process, see the Public 
Participation heading of the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this 
document. It is requested, but not required, that two copies of the 
comment be provided. Note that all comments received will be posted 
without change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal 
information provided. Please see the Privacy Act heading below.
    Privacy Act: Anyone is able to search the electronic form of all 
comments received into any of our dockets by the name of the individual 
submitting the comment (or signing the comment, if submitted on behalf 
of an association, business, labor union, etc.). You may review DOT's 
complete Privacy Act Statement in the Federal Register published on 
April 11, 2000 (65 FR 19477-78).

    For Non-Legal Issues: Ms. Carla Rush, Office of Crashworthiness 
Standards, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New 
Jersey Ave., SE., Washington, DC 20590, Telephone: (202) 366-4583, 
Facsimile: (202) 493-2739.
    For Legal Issues: Mr. J. Edward Glancy, Office of Chief Counsel, 
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave., 
SE., Washington, DC 20590, Telephone: (202) 366-2992, Facsimile: (202) 


[[Page 37344]]

Table of Contents

I. Background
    A. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in the United States
    1. Regulatory History
    2. NHTSA Research and Consumer Information Programs
    B. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in Europe
    C. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in Japan
    D. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in Australia
II. Petition
III. Analysis
    A. Target Population
    B. Benefits
    C. Countermeasure Costs
    D. Summary
IV. Solicitation of Comments
V. Public Participation

I. Background

A. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in the United States

    Increasing seat belt use in the United States (U.S.) has been a 
long-standing priority for the National Highway Traffic Safety 
Administration (NHTSA). When used properly, NHTSA estimates that seat 
belts (lap/shoulder belts) reduce the risk of fatal injury to front 
seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-
severe injury by 50 percent. Seat belts are even more effective for 
light truck occupants, reducing the fatality risk by 60 percent and the 
moderate-to-serious injury risk by 65 percent.\1\ For rear seat 
passenger car occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 
44 percent. For rear seat passenger van and sport utility vehicle 
occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 73 percent.\2\ 
During the 5-year period from 2004 to 2008, seat belts saved over 
75,000 lives.\3\ Historically, NHTSA has pursued two strategic 
approaches for increasing seat belt use: Behavioral programs and 
vehicle-based technologies.

    \1\ Traffic Safety Facts: Occupant Protection, 2006 Data. DOT HS 
810 807. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety 
    \2\ Morgan, Christina. ``Effectiveness of Lap/Shoulder Belts in 
the Back Outboard Seating Positions,'' DOT HS 808 945, NHTSA 
Technical Report, 1999.
    \3\ Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats: Lives Saved in 2008 by 
Restraint Use. DOT HS 811 153. Washington, DC: National Highway 
Traffic Safety Administration.

    Behavioral programs aimed at increasing seat belt use have included 
providing educational and technical assistance to the public, policy-
makers and intermediaries on the benefits of seat belt use and the 
effectiveness of primary seat belt use laws and strengthening existing 
laws. NHTSA has also worked with the States to encourage high 
visibility seat belt use enforcement through programs such as safety 
checkpoints and associated media campaigns. The agency has also worked 
on national communication plans directed towards media opportunities to 
support seat belt use mobilization efforts, as well as initiatives that 
partner with employers and the insurance industry.
    In parallel with our behavioral strategies, the agency has also 
pursued vehicle-based technologies for increasing seat belt use. These 
include sensors in the seat belt system that can detect seat belt non-
use and provide audio/visual warnings or other incentives to encourage 
unbelted occupants to fasten their seat belts. In this notice we will 
discuss four different types of vehicle-based technologies: Driver seat 
belt warning systems, seat belt interlocks, rear seat belt reminder 
systems (SBRSs) and enhanced SBRSs.\4\ For the purposes of this notice, 
the term rear SBRS does not necessarily limit the system to the 
requirements of the driver seat belt warning systems that are regulated 
by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, ``Occupant 
crash protection,'' which will be discussed in the following section. 
However, as further discussed below, there are statutory limitations 
with respect to our ability to require some types of enhanced SBRSs.

    \4\ For the purposes of this notice an ``enhanced SBRS'' is a 
seat belt warning system that goes beyond the specifications of the 
driver seat belt warning system that are set forth in S7.3 of FMVSS 
No. 208.

1. Regulatory History
    Early driver seat belt warning systems and seat belt interlocks 
date back to the 1970s, when seat belt use was only 12 to 15 
percent.\5\ In 1971, NHTSA sought to increase seat belt use by adopting 
occupant protection options for vehicles manufactured after 1972 that 
required the use of a SBRS for the front outboard seating positions (36 
FR 4600).\6\ Then in 1972, NHTSA adopted an occupant protection option 
for passenger cars manufactured between August 15, 1973 and August 15, 
1975, that required an interlock system which would prevent a vehicle 
from starting if any of the front seat belts were not fastened (37 FR 

    \5\ ``Buckling Up, Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use,'' 
Special Report 278, Committee for the Safety Belt Technology Study, 
http://www.TRB.org, 2003, page 4. Haseltine, P.W. 2001. Seat Belt 
Use in Motor Vehicles: The U.S. Experience. In 2001 Seat Belt 
Summit, Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, Inc., Jan. 11-13.
    \6\ NHTSA Docket No. 69-7; Notice 9.
    \7\ NHTSA Docket No. 69-7; Notice 16.

    Contrary to the agency's expectations, the initial vehicle 
introduction of these systems in the early 1970s was not well received 
by the public. In particular, continuous buzzers and ignition 
interlocks annoyed many consumers to the point of disabling or 
circumventing the systems.\8\ As a result of the negative consumer 
reaction, Congress adopted a provision, as part of the Motor Vehicle 
and School Bus Safety Amendments of 1974, prohibiting the agency from 
prescribing a motor vehicle safety standard that requires, or permits 
as a compliance option, either ignition interlocks designed to prevent 
starting or operating a motor vehicle if an occupant is not using a 
seat belt, or a buzzer designed to indicate a seat belt is not in use 
for a period of more than eight (8) seconds after the ignition was 
turned to the ``start'' or ``on'' position (49 U.S.C. 30124).\9\

    \8\ Kratzke, S.R. 1995. Regulatory History of Automatic Crash 
Protection in FMVSS 208. SAE Technical Paper 950865. International 
Congress and Exposition, Society of Automotive Engineers, Detroit, 
Mich., Feb. 27-March 2.
    \9\ There is no statutory requirement that the warning system be 
limited to the driver's seating position.

    FMVSS No. 208 was ultimately amended to only require that the 
driver's seating position be equipped with a seat belt warning system 
that activates, under circumstances when the driver's seat belt is not 
buckled, a continuous or intermittent audible signal for a period of 
not less than 4 seconds and not more than 8 seconds, and a continuous 
or flashing warning light for not less than 60 seconds after the 
ignition switch is turned on (39 FR 42692).\10\ This provision was more 
readily accepted by the public and has remained a part of the standard 
for vehicles manufactured since 1974. Likewise, the Congressional 
statutory provision of 1974 is still in effect today (49 U.S.C. 30124).

    \10\ NHTSA Docket No. 74-39; Notice 3.

2. NHTSA Research and Consumer Information Programs
    As seat belt use increased to 73 percent in calendar year 2001,\11\ 
Congress directed NHTSA to study the potential benefits of technologies 
designed to increase seat belt use (through contract with the 
Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences 
(NAS)).\12\ The study aimed to determine how current drivers might 
accept technologies designed to increase seat belt use, and consider 
whether legislative or regulatory actions were

[[Page 37345]]

necessary to enable their installation on passenger vehicles.

    \11\ Glassbrenner, Donna, Safety Belt and Helmet Use in 2002--
Overall Results. DOT HS 809 500. September 2002.
    \12\ House of Representatives Report 107-108 Department of 
Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill, 2002, June 
22, 2001.

    The study found that enhanced SBRSs that went beyond the required 
FMVSS No. 208 driver seat belt warning system showed promise for 
increasing seat belt use. It concluded that the data available at that 
time provided ``strongly converging evidence in support of both the 
potential effectiveness and consumer acceptance of many new seat belt 
use technologies, particularly enhanced belt reminder systems.''
    The study also made eight recommendations for the continued 
development of these technologies. One of the recommendations stated 
that Congress should amend the statute regarding seat belt reminder 
systems by lifting the restrictions on systems with visual and audible 
signals that stay activated beyond the initial 8 seconds. It further 
stated that amending the statute would provide NHTSA more flexibility 
and the authority to require effective seat belt reminder 
technologies.\13\ It also recommended that if voluntary efforts to 
install effective SBRSs did not produce sufficient results, NHTSA 
should mandate the most effective acceptable systems as determined by 
the current data. In addition, the study recommended that Congress 
provide NHTSA funding to support a multi-year program of research on 
the effectiveness of different enhanced SBRSs, because the findings of 
such research could help establish the scientific basis for regulation 
should regulation be needed.

    \13\ ``Buckling Up, Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use,'' 
Special Report 278, Committee for the Safety Belt Technology Study, 
http://www.TRB.org, 2003.

    Concurrent with the NAS study, NHTSA's Administrator sent letters 
to vehicle manufacturers in 2002, and again in 2003, encouraging them 
to enhance their driver seat belt warning systems beyond the minimum 
required by FMVSS No. 208. In addition, the agency explained through a 
series of legal interpretations the attributes of various specific 
enhanced SBRS designs contemplated by vehicle manufacturers that would 
enable them to comply with FMVSS No. 208.\14\

    \14\ These interpretation letters can be found at http://www.regulations.gov (Docket Nos.: NHTSA-2001-9899, NHTSA-2002-13379, 
NHTSA-2003-14742, NHTSA-2003-15006, and NHTSA-2003-15156). In 
general, the interpretation letters indicate that if manufacturers 
want to provide a voluntary signal that goes beyond what is 
specified in FMVSS No. 208, S7.3, they may do so, but that they must 
provide a means for differentiating the voluntarily provided signal 
from the required signal.

    Based on the number of vehicle manufacturer responses, we were 
pleased that many manufacturers were voluntarily moving in the 
direction of installing enhanced SBRSs.\15\ However, we found that 
there was a spectrum of enhanced SBRS types that were being introduced 
into the fleet. Some of the more rudimentary systems had a visual 
signal that stayed activated until the belt was buckled, some had 
audible signals that activated beyond the initial 8 seconds, and others 
had visual signals that stay activated beyond the initial 60 seconds. 
Some even had audible and visual signals that stay activated for 
several minutes.

    \15\ See Docket No. NHTSA-2002-13226 at http://regulations.gov/.

    For the most part, these enhanced SBRSs were directed at front seat 
applications. For the driver position, enhanced SBRSs primarily relied 
on sensors found in the seat belt buckle and latch assemblies, since 
the presence of a driver could be assumed. For front seat passengers, 
some of the more advanced SBRSs relied on the use of existing sensors 
in the seat, used for one of the advanced air bag compliance options. 
These could include pressure-sensitive or capacitive sensors in the 
seat cushions, for example, that were already installed for ensuring 
the proper deployment or suppression of advanced air bags as required 
by FMVSS No. 208.
    In September 2002, NHTSA also chartered an integrated project team 
(IPT) to strategically identify innovative solutions and recommend 
effective strategies in increasing seat belt use. The IPT recommended 
several strategies for consideration.\16\ These included: Continued 
work on encouraging vehicle manufacturers to voluntarily install 
enhanced SBRSs, providing consumer information on vehicles equipped 
with enhanced SBRSs as part of the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), 
and continued monitoring and assessment of the effectiveness and 
acceptability of enhanced SBRSs through research.

    \16\ U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic 
Safety Administration, Initiatives to Address Safety Belt Use, July 
2003, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/SafetyBelt/OPIPT_FinalRpt_07-17-03.html (September 30, 2003).

    In 2004, NHTSA started making enhanced SBRS information available 
to consumers through the NCAP http://www.safercar.gov Web site. The 
consumer information explained the functionality of enhanced SBRSs and 
documented the availability of enhanced SBRS for each vehicle model on 
the http://www.safercar.gov Web site. We have continued to collect and 
disseminate the information in the years since. Currently in the U.S., 
479 vehicle models out of 493 were reported by their manufacturers as 
having a SBRS that went beyond the minimum performance requirements of 
FMVSS No. 208 according to the model year (MY) 2010 Buying a Safer Car 
information. Currently the agency requests information about the 
seating positions that have SBRSs and if the SBRS signal time exceeds 
that required by FMVSS No. 208. It was reported that 372 of the 493 
vehicle models have a SBRS for the right front passenger seat, and 416 
of the 493 vehicle models have a SBRS signal (audio/visual/or both) 
that stays active beyond the FMVSS No. 208 requirement. As Volvo 
started introducing rear SBRSs in the U.S. in 2009, NHTSA expanded its 
data collection efforts to include vehicle models with rear SBRS data. 
In the MY 2010 Buying a Safer Car information, Volvo remains the only 
vehicle manufacturer that offers rear SBRSs; furthermore, they have 
become standard equipment in the majority of Volvo's 2010 model year 

    \17\ The Volvo models with rear SBRSs included: The XC60, XC70, 
C30, C70, S40, S80, V50, and V70.

    In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient 
Transportation Equity Act--Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) \18\ 
legislation required that NHTSA evaluate the effectiveness and 
acceptability of several different types of enhanced SBRSs being 
offered by a number of manufacturers. In response, the agency initiated 
a four-phase research study, which is partially completed.

    \18\ Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation 
Equity Act, Public Law No. 109-59, Sec.  10306 (2005).

    The first phase included an observational study of actual vehicles 
in the field in which the front seat belt use rates in vehicles with 
the enhanced SBRSs were compared to rates in comparable vehicles with 
only the driver seat belt warning required by FMVSS No. 208. The study 
looked at 20 different enhanced SBRSs systems as well as baseline 
systems that did not exceed the FMVSS No. 208 requirements. Nine of the 
20 enhanced SBRSs were driver only systems. The enhanced systems 
studied had a variety of enhanced features; some enhancements were 
related to the visual feedback, i.e., icons and/or text, and others 
were related to auditory feedback. Similar systems were combined into 
groups when determining effectiveness. Combining all the effective 
estimates for all the enhanced SBRSs studied, it was estimated that 
these systems were associated with increased front seat belt usage of 
about 3-4 percentage points

[[Page 37346]]

above front seat belt usage rates for vehicles without enhanced 

    \19\ Freedman, M., Levi, S., Zador, P., Lopdell, J., and 
Bergeron, E., ``The effectiveness of enhanced seat belt reminder 
systems--Observational field data collection methodology and 
findings,'' Report : DOT HS 810 844, December 2007.

    The second phase examined which seat belt reminder characteristics 
(e.g., visual, auditory, etc.) most influenced effectiveness and 
acceptance for drivers. This phase found that all of the enhanced SBRSs 
were perceived to be more effective in encouraging seat belt use than 
the driver seat belt warning system required by FMVSS No. 208. The 
study found a strong positive correlation between subjective 
effectiveness and annoyance. Systems with more aggressive reminder 
displays and more frequent repetition patterns were perceived to be the 
most effective. However, no clear consensus existed regarding which 
systems or displays were most acceptable and the degree to which 
annoyance was an important attribute of an effective system.\20\

    \20\ Lerner, N., Singer, J., Huey, R., and Jenness, J., 
``Acceptability and Potential Effectiveness of Enhanced Seat Belt 
Reminder System Features,'' Report : DOT HS 810 848, 
December 2007.

    The third phase of our research study further analyzed the results 
of the first and second phases, as well as focused on optimizing the 
effectiveness and acceptance of enhanced SBRSs. The study found that 
there is good agreement between the two studies on the association of a 
greater likelihood of seat belt use with enhanced SBRSs and the 
importance of including an auditory component to the system. Based on 
the findings of this phase, a set of recommended system characteristics 
were presented as part of the report, as well as a proposed rating 
system for enhanced SBRSs.\21\

    \21\ Freedman, M., Lerner, N., Zador, P., Singer, J., and Levi, 
S. Effectiveness and Acceptance of Enhanced Seat Belt Reminder 
Systems: Characteristics of Optimal Reminder Systems. Report 
: DOT HS 811 097, February 2009.

    The final phase, expected to be completed by mid-2010, is focused 
on the effectiveness and acceptance of enhanced SBRSs in teen drivers 
and passengers.

B. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in Europe

    In April 2008, a seat belt reminder system for the driver's seat 
was incorporated into ECE R.16, ``Uniform provisions concerning the 
approval of: safety belts, restraint systems, child restraint systems 
and ISOFIX child restraint systems for occupants of power-driven 
vehicles and vehicles equipped with safety belts, restraint systems, 
child restraint systems and ISOFIX child restraint systems.'' The 
requirements include two levels of warning signals for seat belt non-
use. The first level is a visual warning that is at least 4 seconds 
long that activates when the driver's seat belt is unbuckled and the 
ignition switch is engaged. An optional audible signal can be added. 
The second level is a visual and audible signal that is at least 30 
seconds long that activates when a driver operates a vehicle with his 
or her seat belt unbuckled.
    Many passenger vehicles in Europe have enhanced SBRSs beyond the 
minimum required by the European standards. Since 2002, the consumer 
crash protection program in Europe, the European New Car Assessment 
Programme (Euro NCAP), has awarded points to a vehicle if it is 
voluntarily equipped with enhanced SBRSs that fully comply with their 
protocol requirements.\22\

    \22\ Specifically, the awarded points are applied toward a 
vehicle's Safety Assist rating, which in turn is used in the overall 
rating for the vehicle. From February 2009, Euro NCAP will publish a 
new overall rating for every vehicle that will cover Adult Occupant 
Protection, Child Occupant Protection, Pedestrian Protection and a 
new area of assessment: Safety Assist.

    In the Euro NCAP SBRS protocol requirements, seat belt use must be 
identified for all seating positions at the start of a trip. However, 
it does not require occupant detection sensors to determine whether a 
passenger is actually occupying the seat. Separate points are given for 
the driver, front passenger, and rear passenger seating positions.
    For front seats, an audiovisual signal must start when a front seat 
occupant is unbelted and one of the following events takes place: The 
engine has been running for 60 seconds, the vehicle has been in forward 
motion for 60 seconds or 500 meters, or the vehicle has reached a 
forward speed of 25 km/hr. The signal must be at least 90 seconds long.
    For rear seats, a visual signal must start within five seconds of 
the engine starting or the start of forward motion. The visual signal 
must be at least 30 seconds long and it must indicate the number of 
rear seat belts that are in use. For rear seats with occupancy 
detection, they must meet the same signal requirements as those without 
occupancy detection except that no signal is required if there are no 
occupants in the rear passenger seats or if all rear seat occupants are 
belted. The system may allow the driver to acknowledge the signal for 
rear seats and switch it off.
    Furthermore, when a seat belt experiences a change of status (from 
buckled to unbuckled), an audiovisual signal is required for front and 
rear seats.

C. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in Japan

    Japan's National Agency for Automobile Safety and Victim's Aid and 
Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (JMLIT) has 
initiated a two phase program as part of Japan's New Car Assessment 
Program (JNCAP) to promote the introduction of enhanced SBRSs for 
passenger seats. The first phase will identify which vehicles 
voluntarily meet their enhanced SBRS requirements and make the 
information available to consumers through their JNCAP pamphlet and 
    The requirements for enhanced SBRSs are similar to that of Euro 
NCAP. The front seat occupant enhanced SBRS must have a 30 second 
audible or visual signal that initiates when a front seat occupant is 
unbelted and one of the following events takes place: The engine has 
been running for 60 seconds, the vehicle has been in forward motion for 
500 meters, or the vehicle has reached a forward speed between 10-25 
    The rear SBRS must have at least a 30 second audible or visual 
reminder that is directed toward the driver or the unbuckled passenger. 
The rear SBRS must also indicate to the driver the number of seat belts 
that are in use. They do not require the rear SBRS to be equipped with 
occupant detection technology.
    The second phase of the program will establish new enhanced SBRSs 
requirements for JNCAP based on the findings of a study that is 
currently underway to evaluate human factors and the effectiveness of 
different types of visual and audible warning signals.

D. Seat Belt Reminder Systems in Australia

    In 1996, Australia's Department of Transport (now the Department of 
Transport and Regional Services) introduced a new Australian Design 
Rule (ADR) 69 that required manufacturers to meet certain crash 
performance criteria in a dynamic full frontal crash. This ADR also 
adopted a requirement for a driver SBRS that is currently still in 
place. The driver SBRS comprises of a visual signal that must remain 
activated for no less than four seconds after the ignition was switched 
on, or before one of the following events takes place: The engine has 
been running for 60 seconds, the vehicle has been in forward motion for 
500 meters, or the vehicle has reached a forward speed between 25 km/h. 
The ADR does

[[Page 37347]]

not require the system to operate if the driver's seat belt is buckled 
or is withdrawn more than 10 cm from the retractor. The ADR also states 
that if the system complies with the U.S. FMVSS No. 208, S7.3 that it 
is deemed compliant with the ADR requirements.
    The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) conducts 
assessments of seat belt reminders in accordance with the protocol 
issued by Euro NCAP. ANCAP prepared a questionnaire to assist in the 
assessment of seat belt reminder systems. Manufacturers may submit a 
completed questionnaire to obtain a provisional assessment of reminder 
systems by ANCAP. In addition to the Euro NCAP requirements, ANCAP 
prefers that if the system does not implement occupant detection that a 
positive indicator, such as a green light, be displayed for each rear 
seat belt that is being used and that no display lights be shown for 
unused seat belts. Furthermore, for systems with occupant detection, 
ANCAP prefers a negative indicator, such as a red light for any seating 
position that has an occupant that is unbuckled.\23\ ANCAP also began 
applying Euro NCAP's change of status signal requirements for rear 
seats after January 2008.

    \23\ ANCAP, Notes on the assessment protocol, Version 4.8, 
October 29, 2007.

II. Petition

    On November 21, 2007, Public Citizen and Advocates for Highway and 
Auto Safety (henceforth referred to as the petitioner) petitioned NHTSA 
to amend FMVSS No. 208, to require automobile manufacturers to install 
a SBRS for rear seats of passenger cars and multipurpose passenger 
vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 4,536 kg (10,000 
lbs.) or less.\24\

    \24\ See docket to this notice for a copy of the petition.

    The petitioner stated that SBRSs for rear seats would save hundreds 
of lives each year and that a large percentage of the lives saved would 
be children. The petitioner suggested that if rear seat belt usage 
matched the level of front seats, about 289 lives would be saved each 
year, and 78 of those would be children between 5 and 18-years-old. The 
petitioner noted that primary enforcement laws typically do not cover 
rear seat occupants and claimed that studies have proven that SBRSs for 
rear seats significantly increase rear passenger seat belt use. The 
petitioner also stated that requiring SBRSs for rear seats is 
consistent with former NHTSA administrator, Dr. Jeffrey Runge's, 
statements on enhanced SBRSs as well as NHTSA's study on the 
effectiveness of enhanced SBRSs for front seats, and the SAFETEA-LU 
requirements to increase belt use for all passengers. The petitioner 
further stated that SBRSs for rear seats are technologically feasible 
and that they would be less costly if they were required in all 
vehicles. Lastly, the petitioner stated that the American public 
desires SBRSs for rear seats.

III. Analysis

    In analyzing the petition to require SBRSs for rear seats, it 
became readily apparent that the limiting factor in our benefits 
estimate is the unknown effectiveness of rear SBRSs. Without this 
information, the agency cannot make an accurate assessment of how many 
lives would be saved and injuries reduced by requiring rear SBRSs, and 
the cost-effectiveness of such systems. In the sections that follow, we 
preliminarily identify the potential target population, discuss the 
limitations of our effectiveness estimates, and the potential costs of 
various rear SBRS technologies. However, as discussed further in this 
notice, we are seeking comment and information from the public on each 
aspect of our analysis.

A. Target Population

    The agency made some preliminary target population estimates in 
analyzing the petition using the 2008 calendar year as a baseline. In 
that year, front seat belt usage was 83 percent and rear seat belt 
usage was 74 percent.\25\ According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting 
System (FARS) data, there were 2,163 rear seat occupants killed that 
year in motor vehicle crashes. According to the National Automotive 
Sampling System (NASS) General Estimates System (GES) data, there were 
another 266,163 MAIS \26\ 1-5 rear seat occupant injuries that 
resulted.\27\ Of those, 1,442 fatalities and 28,075 MAIS 1-5 injuries 
were to unrestrained rear seat occupants.\28\ These unrestrained 
occupants are the target population any potential rulemaking on rear 
SBRS would seek to address.

    \25\ Traffic Safety Facts: Seat Belt Use in Rear Seats in 2008. 
DOT HS 811 133. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety 
Administration, May 2009.
    \26\ The Maximum Abbreviated Injury Score (MAIS) is an 
anatomical scoring system that provides a way of ranking the 
severity of injury. The higher the score, the more severe the 
    \27\ MAIS 1-5 injury benefits were further adjusted by a 
universal exaggeration factor of 1.369 to address the over reporting 
of safety belt use in injuries. (Fatality Reduction by Safety Belts 
for Front-Seat occupants of Cars and Light Trucks, December 2000, 
DOT HS 809 199).
    \28\ Injuries with unknown restraint usage were distributed 
proportionately to those with known usage.

B. Benefits

    As previously mentioned, the agency lacks sufficient information on 
the effectiveness of rear SBRSs. We are not aware of studies that show 
how effective a warning sent to the driver (and/or front seat 
passenger) would be in encouraging rear seat occupants to fasten their 
seat belts. Depending upon the type of rear SBRS implemented, repeated 
false alarms, for example, could be an annoyance to drivers and 
consequently reduce its effectiveness. On the other hand, less 
aggressive systems may not change an occupant's behavior.
    In the petitioner's benefits calculations, three hypothetical 
outcomes were presented that could occur from requiring rear SBRSs:
    1. Increased rear seat belt usage to the level of front seat belt 
    2. Increased rear seat belt usage by 9.1% in light trucks and 12.9% 
in cars; and
    3. Increased rear seat belt usage to 85-90%.

    However, for the first outcome to occur, rear seat belt usage would 
need to increase from 74 to 83 percent to be equivalent to front seat 
belt usage (based on our 2008 baseline). This would require an increase 
in rear seat belt usage of 9 percentage points, although front seat 
enhanced SBRSs are preliminarily estimated to increase front seat belt 
use by only 3-4 percent.\29\ The other two scenarios are more unlikely 
since they assume higher effectiveness rates for rear SBRSs than are 
currently achieved for front seat SBRSs. Finally, the petitioner also 
suggested that benefits would be accrued to front seat occupants if 
rear seat passengers were buckled up. While we agree, in principle, 
that front seat occupant risk would be reduced by having rear seat 
passengers restrained, we have evidence to suggest that these benefits 
would be small and not a significant proportion of the benefits gained 
from increases in rear seat belt usage.\30\

    \29\ We do not have data concerning the effectiveness of a basic 
front seat belt reminder system. The closest data we have are from 
the enhanced systems being implemented recently, which are over and 
above the basic system.
    \30\ Bean, James D., et al., ``Fatalities in frontal crashes 
despite seat belts and air bags,'' NHTSA technical report, DOT HS 
811 202, September 2009. (This report documents a review of 122 
cases where a frontal fatality occurred to a belted driver or right-
front passenger in a MY 2000 or newer vehicle in the CDS through 
calendar year 2007. Of these 122 cases, only one fatality was 
attributed to what the agency characterized as a ``back-seat 


[[Page 37348]]

    Generally, we are encouraged by the potential that enhanced SBRSs 
have in increasing seat belt use, but the agency would like more 
information prior to deciding whether to undertake a rulemaking action 
for rear SBRSs. We invite the public to share its information and views 
on rear SBRSs effectiveness in order to assist the agency in evaluating 
these systems and their merit.

C. Countermeasure Costs

    In deciding whether to pursue a rulemaking action, the agency must 
also consider the associated costs involved. The petitioner suggested 
that rear SBRSs provide an effective strategy for saving lives ``at a 
minimal additional cost to manufacturers and consumers.'' It suggested 
that the following components would be needed: A seat sensor that 
detects occupancy, a sensor in the seat belt buckle, and a control unit 
that features a flashing light and audible sound. No costs for these 
components were provided.
    In the NAS study, it was found that enhanced SBRSs for rear seats 
are more costly than front-seat systems because the majority of 
vehicles already have some type of front passenger occupancy sensor and 
central processing unit installed for advanced air bag system purposes. 
Occupancy detection technology is not readily-equipped in rear seats, 
and those passenger vehicles equipped with large numbers of rear seat 
occupant positions (e.g., 8-passenger sport utility vehicles, minivans, 
and 15-passenger vans) would have to be equipped with sensors at each 
rear seating position. The NAS study cited low rear seat occupancy 
rates as another reason it did not consider the installation of rear 
seat occupancy sensors to be cost-effective in its findings. NHTSA 
estimates that rear seat occupants were 11 percent of the passenger 
vehicle occupants involved in police-reported crashes in 2007.\31\

    \31\ In 2007 there were 13,613,000 passenger vehicle occupants 
involved in police-reported crashes. The source of this data is both 
the FARS and the NASS GES. Passenger vehicle occupant involvement in 
fatal crashes comes from FARS and involvement in injury and property 
damage only crashes comes from GES.

    Furthermore, whether contemplating sophisticated occupancy sensors 
or simpler belt use sensor technology, there are additional potential 
practicability concerns that rear seats present over front seats, 
including compatibility with removable seats (e.g., Stow-n-Go, Flip and 
Fold). Additionally, occupancy detection complexities, such as 
inanimate cargo (groceries or heavy objects) or pets that are often 
transported in the rear seat present additional technical challenges in 
mitigating false alarms. In consideration of these factors, the agency 
believes that requiring that each rear seating position be equipped 
with SBRS technology may be costly. We are therefore seeking comment on 
this issue.
    Specifically, we would like to receive information on the range of 
technologies, and related costs, that could be used in rear SBRS 
strategies. For example, one system could include rear seat occupant 
detection technology, rear seat belt use sensors, and a warning system 
with visual and audible components. This system would likely provide a 
high amount of reliability in detecting seat belt non-use and alerting 
the driver, yet it would likely be the most costly to implement. It 
also most closely resembles the petitioner's recommended 
countermeasure. This system could activate an audible and visual signal 
whenever there is an unbuckled rear seat passenger. Occupant detection 
sensors would be used to identify the presence of rear passengers and 
mitigate false alarms when there is no passenger in the seat and the 
seat belt is unbuckled. While NHTSA is aware of the technology being 
available for such a system, we are not aware of any such systems in 
    There are also lower cost rear SBRSs that are more comparable to 
production systems designed to meet Euro NCAP requirements. Such a 
system could incorporate rear seat belt use sensors and audible/visual 
alarms, but would not include occupant detection capabilities. 
Additionally, unlike the previously mentioned system, this enhanced 
SBRS visually reports the number of belted rear passengers to the 
driver, rather than notifying the driver of rear seat belt non-use. 
Hence, this type of system relies on the driver (or the human factor) 
to know how many rear seat occupants there are, and if that number 
equals the number of seat belts that are reported by the enhanced SBRS 
as being buckled. Notification to the driver would be conducted by 
having a visual display on the console (either displaying a number, or 
icons of each belted seating position) to alert the driver of the 
number of rear seat belts in use. It could also provide an audible 
alarm in the event the status of the seat belt buckle changes during 
the course of the trip, as required by Euro NCAP. While the main 
limitation of such a system is its reliance on the driver to know the 
number of rear seat passengers and compare it to the visual reporting 
of the rear SBRS, such a system could also be easier to ignore and may 
not be as effective as an audible warning system that alerts the driver 
of unbelted passengers at the start of a trip. Therefore, we are 
seeking comment and information on the effectiveness of such a system.
    We also note that both of the aforementioned rear SBRSs lack a 
means of detecting a child seat attached to a LATCH-equipped seating 
position. The first system could potentially use the occupant detection 
sensors to identify the presence of a child seat (e.g., in the same 
manner that advanced air bag systems detect child seats in the front 
passenger seat), but it would lack the sophistication of detecting 
whether that child seat is actually attached to the LATCH anchorages. 
Some type of LATCH anchorage detection sensor would also be needed. 
While parents and caregivers could attach the child seat with the seat 
belt at such seating positions in addition to using the LATCH 
anchorages to minimize the audible/visual warnings to the driver, some 
are of the opinion that using both seat belts and LATCH could be 
considered a misuse condition. Alternatively, the consumer could attach 
the seat belt and then place the child seat on top of it, attaching the 
child seat with LATCH, or a seat belt detection system could also 
encourage them to revert back to not using the LATCH anchorages at all, 
and only restrain child seats using seat belts. The agency does not 
consider one method of child seat installation safer than the other; 
however, we have observed that child seats installed with LATCH are 
more likely to be installed securely than child seats installed with 
seat belts.\32\

    \32\ Decina, L.E.; Lococo, K.H.; and Doyle, C.T. 2006. Child 
restraint use survey: LATCH use and misuse. Report no. DOT HS-810-
679. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 
Page 26.

    On the other hand, the second system mentioned above (e.g., the 
lower cost technology) would simply consider the seating position with 
the child seat attached by LATCH anchorages to be an unbuckled seating 
position. A driver using this system would need to take this fact into 
account when comparing the number of rear seat occupants against the 
number reported by the rear SBRS. Or, like the first system, parents 
and caregivers could buckle the seat belt, in addition to using LATCH, 
to enable the system to count it as a belted seating position. However, 
again, this could encourage them to revert to not using LATCH at all or 
could encourage them to keep the belt buckled to mislead the system.

[[Page 37349]]

    Therefore, the agency is additionally seeking comment on how LATCH 
would interact with a rear SBRSs. Would LATCH detection be a necessary 
requirement of a rear SBRS so that when LATCH anchorages are used at a 
LATCH-equipped seating position, the seating position would be 
displayed as belted?

D. Summary

    The agency would like more information about the effectiveness of 
the rear SBRSs discussed above, systems under development, and other 
potential alternatives, to assist it in deciding whether to grant or 
deny the petition. We have concerns that the estimated costs for some 
technologies could be high and have technical complexities with 
removable seats to overcome. Other lower cost systems may not be robust 
enough to attain the benefits that we would hope to attain with such a 

IV. Solicitation of Comments

    To assist the agency in determining whether to grant or deny the 
petition, NHTSA is soliciting comments and data in this notice. For 
easy reference, the questions that follow are numbered consecutively. 
NHTSA encourages commenters to provide specific responses for each 
question for which they have information or views. In order to 
facilitate tabulation of the written comments in sequence, please 
identify the number of each question to which you are responding. NHTSA 
requests that the rationale for positions taken by commenters be 
specific and supported by data, including any analysis of safety 
consequences. We encourage commenters to provide scientific analysis 
and data relating to system designs, testing, and field experience as 
well as arguments or views they believe are relevant to this topic.
    In providing information in response to the questions, NHTSA 
invites commenters to address different kinds of potential rear SBRS, 
including basic ones as well as enhanced systems. However, as noted 
earlier, there are statutory limitations on the kinds of enhanced 
systems that the agency could require by regulation. See 49 U.S.C. 
30124. The petitioner stated that if the agency receives permission 
from Congress to required enhanced performance reminders, the new 
enhanced reminder requirement should also apply to the rear seat. While 
we do not intend to limit commenters from identifying potential 
regulatory requirements that they believe would be best, we ask that to 
the extent any commenters recommend requirements that would not be 
consistent with the existing statutory limitations that they also 
provide recommendations as to what regulatory actions the agency should 
take, if any, given those limitations.


    1. What studies have been conducted (or are underway) on the 
effectiveness of rear SBRSs in increasing rear seat belt use?
    2. What are the most important characteristics of a highly 
effective rear SBRS? And what are the minimum characteristics?
    3. The agency's crash data show that a large percentage of unbelted 
rear seat fatalities were in vehicles with drivers who were belted.\33\ 
What studies have been conducted (or are underway) on the effectiveness 
of rear SBRSs in influencing belted drivers if they are reminded (by a 
rear SBRS) that their rear passengers (especially child passengers) are 
being afforded less protection than they are providing for themselves?

    \33\ See docket to this notice.

    4. How effective are visual reminders that provide the driver with 
the number of belted rear passengers, and rely on the driver to know 
how many rear seat occupants are in the vehicle, i.e., a system that 
does not incorporate occupant sensors?
    5. How would LATCH interact with a rear SBRS?
    6. What studies have been conducted (or are underway) to study how 
having a LATCH detection sensor would improve the rear SBRS's 

Consumer Acceptance

    7. What studies have been conducted (or are underway) on the 
consumer acceptance of rear SBRSs?
    8. What characteristics should a rear SBRS have to maintain a high 
level of effectiveness while maximizing consumer acceptance?
    9. What types of comments/complaints have vehicle manufacturers 
received on their rear SBRSs?
    10. What are the ``lessons learned'' regarding the installation, 
use, and acceptance of existing rear SBRSs?
    11. What are the types of rear SBRSs that are likely to cause some 
consumers to disarm or purchase vehicles without a rear SBRS?

Technology and Costs

    12. What types of rear SBRSs are vehicle manufacturers installing 
(or planning to install) in the U.S. or in other countries?
    13. What technologies would be necessary to overcome the 
installation obstacles for rear seat occupant detection (e.g., 
removable seats, folding seats, rotating seats, etc.) and what are 
their expected per vehicle costs? Are there similar concerns with the 
installation of rear seat belt use sensors?


    14. Should rear SBRSs be a mandatory requirement, or only regulated 
if optionally provided?
    If so, what characteristics should they exhibit?
    a. Should the system be capable of detecting an occupant?
    b. Should the system have a visual-only signal or a visual and 
audible signal?
    c. Should change of belt status be monitored?
    15. Are there better approaches to increase rear seat belt use 
other than requiring or regulating rear SBRSs?
    a. Should NHTSA just continue to rely on its education and outreach 
programs in supporting rear seat belt use laws?
    b. Should NHTSA take an approach similar to Euro NCAP and provide 
ratings for rear SBRSs?

V. Public Participation

How Do I Prepare and Submit Comments?

    Your comments must be written and in English. To ensure that your 
comments are correctly filed in the Docket, please include the docket 
number of this document in your comments. Your comments must not be 
more than 15 pages long.\34\ We established this limit to encourage you 
to write your primary comments in a concise fashion. However, you may 
attach necessary additional documents to your comments. There is no 
limit on the length of the attachments. If you are submitting comments 
electronically as a PDF (Adobe) file, we ask that the documents 
submitted be scanned using the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) 
process, thus allowing the agency to search and copy certain portions 
of your submissions.\35\ Please note that pursuant to the Data Quality 
Act, in order for substantive data to be relied upon and used by the 
agency, it must meet the information quality standards set forth in the 
OMB and DOT Data Quality Act guidelines.

    \34\ See 49 CFR 553.21.
    \35\ Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is the process of 
converting an image of text, such as a scanned paper document or 
electronic fax file, into computer-editable text.

    Accordingly, we encourage you to consult the guidelines in 
preparing your comments. OMB's guidelines may be

[[Page 37350]]

accessed at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/reproducible.html. 
DOT's guidelines may be accessed at: http://dmses.dot.gov/submit/DataQualityGuidelines.pdf.

How Can I Be Sure That My Comments Were Received?

    If you submit your comments by mail and wish Docket Management to 
notify you upon its receipt of your comments, enclose a self-addressed, 
stamped postcard in the envelope containing your comments. Upon 
receiving your comments, Docket Management will return the postcard by 

How Do I Submit Confidential Business Information?

    If you wish to submit any information under a claim of 
confidentiality, you should submit three copies of your complete 
submission, including the information you claim to be confidential 
business information, to the Chief Counsel, NHTSA, at the address given 
above under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. When you send a comment 
containing information claimed to be confidential business information, 
you should include a cover letter setting forth the information 
specified in our confidential business information regulation.\36\ In 
addition, you should submit a copy, from which you have deleted the 
claimed confidential business information, to the Docket by one of the 
methods set forth above.

    \36\ See 49 CFR 512.

Will the Agency Consider Late Comments?

    We will consider all comments received before the close of business 
on the comment closing date indicated above under DATES. To the extent 
possible, we will also consider comments received after that date.

How Can I Read the Comments Submitted by Other People?

    You may read the materials placed in the docket for this document 
(e.g., the comments submitted in response to this document by other 
interested persons) at any time by going to http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the online instructions for accessing the dockets. You may also 
read the materials at the Docket Management Facility by going to the 
street address given above under ADDRESSES. The Docket Management 
Facility is open between 9 am and 5 pm Eastern Time, Monday through 
Friday, except Federal holidays.
    Please note that even after the comment closing date, we will 
continue to file relevant information on the docket as it becomes 
available. Further, some people may submit late comments. Accordingly, 
we recommend that you periodically check the docket for new material.

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 322, 30111, 30115, 30117 and 30166; 
delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.50.

    Issued on: June 24, 2010.
Nathaniel Beuse,
Director, Office of Crash Avoidance Standards.
[FR Doc. 2010-15773 Filed 6-28-10; 8:45 am]