If the petitioners get their way, indicators such as this would alert the driver that rear seat occupants are not wearing their seat belts.

NHTSA Weighing Rear Seat Belt Reminder Mandate

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants comments by Aug. 30 on the petition for rulemaking submitted by Public Citizen and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which claim this would not be expensive for automakers.

A petition for rulemaking filed by Public Citizen and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety would require automobile manufacturers to install seat belt reminder systems (SBRS) for rear designated seating positions in light passenger vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking for comments by Aug. 30 about the costs, technology, consumer acceptance, and effectiveness of the proposed change; commenters should use www.regulations.gov and Docket No. NHTSA-2010-0061.

SBRS information is available to consumers at www.safercar.gov. Currently, 479 of 493 vehicle models have an SRBS that exceeds the relevant safety standard, FMVSS No. 208, which sets a minimum audible and visual signal duration, but almost all of the systems available are for front seats only. Volvo introduced rear SBRSs in the United States in 2009 and remains the only vehicle manufacturer offering them, according to NHTSA. They are standard equipment in most 2010 Volvo models.

SBRS in Europe and Japan activate if rear passengers' seat belts are not buckled. The European requirement for rear seats is a visual signal that 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. When a seat belt's status changes from buckled to unbuckled, an audiovisual signal is required for front and rear seats.

Japan requires a rear SBRS with at least a 30-second audible or visual reminder directed toward the driver or the unbuckled passenger and indicating to the driver the number of seat belts that are in use. Japan does not require the rear SBRS to be equipped with occupant-detection technology. NHTSA said Japan is now conducting a study to evaluate human factors and the effectiveness of different types of signals and may base enhanced SBRS requirements on the study's results.

Public Citizen and Advocates filed their petition in November 2007, stating in it that SBRS for rear seats would save hundreds of lives annually and a large percentage of those saved would be children. They said if rear seat belt usage matches front-seat usage, about 289 lives would be saved per year.

"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," NHTSA said in its request for comments. "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."

The agency said front seat belt usage was 83 percent in 2008 and rear seat belt usage was 74 percent. During that year, 2,163 rear seat occupants died in motor vehicle crashes and 266,163 were injured. Of those, 1,442 fatalities and 28,075 injuries were to unrestrained rear seat occupants.

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