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August 13, 1999

Seat Belt Positioners May be Hazardous For Small Children

WASHINGTON, DC (SafetyAlerts) - The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed that manufacturers of aftermarket, add-on seat belt positioners be required to warn that the devices may not be suitable for young or small children.

The devices are advertised as improving the fit of lap and shoulder belts for children and small adults. The devices were found to be inadequate in restraining the three-year-old child crash-test dummy, resulting in a reduction in seat belt performance in some tests and increased risk of head injury. Although the devices generally performed adequately with the six-year-old dummy, there was a reduction in seat belt effectiveness.

Three typical models were tested by NHTSA.   Belt positioning devices can cause the lap belt to rise up in a crash and lie across the soft abdominal area instead of staying lower and lying across the child's hips, thereby increasing the potential for abdominal injury. In the proposal, NHTSA discusses the possibility of adopting performance requirements.

"This continues our effort to improve safety, our highest transportation priority," U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater said. "There is no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety of children, and this proposal, if adopted, would help parents provide for the safety of children."

"This information is necessary so that parents can provide the safest restraint for every child of every size," said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D.

NHTSA said that the current requirements of the federal safety standards for child restraint systems may not be appropriate, since belt positioners would generally pass the standard with the six-year-old dummy even though the devices might result in some degradation of safety performance. At this time there are no abdominal sensors or corresponding injury criteria for the child dummies used by NHTSA in compliance testing, and therefore no way to evaluate the potential for abdominal injury using the existing test protocols.

Comments are requested within 60 days and must be submitted in writing to Docket Management, Docket Number 99-5100, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., 20590.

The notice of proposed rulemaking grants a petition made by the American Academy of Pediatrics to amend the federal standard for child restraint systems.

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