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Interlock seat belts to return?

2013-08-29 11:57

David Shepardson

INTERLOCK SEAT BELTS: BMW is petitioning for the return of interlocking seat belts claiming that not only would they increase safety but that automakers could make vehicles more spacious. Image: YouTube

The auto industry may force drivers to buckle-up before their car will start as automaker's consider reviving  interlock seat belts.

WASHINGTON, US - Seat belts remain the single most successful vehicle safety device yet in the US, unbelted drivers account for 52% of those killed in crashes.


David Shepardson of the Detroit News reports that US regulators will conduct research before it allows automakers to install seat belt-ignition interlocks, in order to skip crash tests designed to protect unbelted drivers.

Video: 1974 Interlocking training manual

The US government required interlocks on nearly all 1974-model cars before an outcry prompted Congress to overrule the unpopular decision. In August 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rejected a petition from BMW, which wanted to skip certain “crash-testing requirements” if it installed seat belt interlocks in the front seat.

In a notice denying BMW’s request, the NHTSA said, “Removing the protection offered to unbelted occupants would be unprecedented for NHTSA, considering unbelted crash test requirements date back to the 1970s.”

The petition filed by BMW said “hundreds of lives could be saved” by increasing seat belt use. The automaker claimed that interlocks could make its vehicles lighter and more spacious, as it remove knee bolsters, since belted occupants would remain in place.

The automaker claims that removing knee bolsters could reduce fuel use by as much as 172 993 litres a year, reports Detroit News.


There are three different interlocks, BMW said, that could be used: One would prevent a driver from starting the vehicle without connecting his/her seat belt. Another would prevent a driver from shifting the vehicle out of “park” and a third would only allow the vehicle to be driven at low-speeds.

BMW said the third option could allow drivers to go to the mailbox “and would be the least annoying and most accepted type of interlock.”

BMW said rear-seat interlocks don’t “make sense”, citing the problem of putting cargo, such as grocery bags, in the rear.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said the agency is launching a new research effort on the interlocks. The NHTSA said a rule change, could allow automakers “the design freedom to create innovative light-weight vehicle concepts.”

NHTSA said there may be benefits in requiring an interlock. But it said the change “potentially puts unbelted occupants at an increased risk of harm.”

Many safety regulations are aimed at preventing unbelted occupants from being killed or injured, including roof strength and side-curtain air-bags, reports Detroit News.

In 2012, the US congress gave the NHTSA permission to enforce regulations allowing automakers to voluntarily install seat belt interlocks to meet compliance measures. NHTSA said that while an automaker could add interlocks it would still have to comply with the unbelted test.

The US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found about half of full-time seat belt wearers support interlocks.


Strickland wants research on a “voluntary standard for an undefeatable seat belt interlock,” since many drivers in 1970s defeated interlocks by locking the belts behind them and sitting on them.

Strickland said: “I will ask for research to examine opportunities for modifying certain regulations if there is 100% certainty that everyone is wearing a belt.

“This could provide manufacturers design flexibility and options to not only improve the margin of safety in a crash, but could also relieve regulatory burdens and save significant costs.”

Read more on:    nhtsa  |  usa  |  safety

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