5
A STRATEGY FOR INCREASING SEAT BELT USE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

A key purpose of this study is to assess whether, in light of findings regarding the benefits and acceptability of new seat belt use technologies, the 1974 legislation prohibiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from requiring their use in vehicles should be reconsidered. In particular, the congressional request asks whether any legislative or regulatory actions may be necessary to enable installation of devices to encourage seat belt use in passenger vehicles.

This chapter begins with an overview of NHTSA’s current interpretation of the statutory provision prohibiting its regulation of new seat belt use technologies. The manufacturers’ perspective on the need for regulation, as reported in briefings to the committee, is then discussed. Drawing on this material as well as on the findings concerning the effectiveness and acceptability of new seat belt use technologies summarized in the preceding chapters, the committee provides its key findings and recommends a strategy to help ensure the successful introduction of new seat belt use technologies as part of an overall effort to increase belt use. The chapter ends with a brief assessment of the potential benefits of that strategy.

NHTSA’S INTERPRETATION OF CURRENT STATUTORY CONSTRAINTS

In 1998, NHTSA was petitioned to commence a rulemaking to amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208 so that the agency could require effective seat belt inducements in new vehicles other than the ignition interlock or a continuous buzzer of the type NHTSA is prohibited from requiring (Nash and Friedman 1998). The petitioners cited the irrelevance of the interlock experience today in view of substantially higher levels of belt use and more comfortable belt designs. They recommended that NHTSA consider requiring such technologies as continuous visual reminders, intermittent and repeating audible warnings,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use 5 A STRATEGY FOR INCREASING SEAT BELT USE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY A key purpose of this study is to assess whether, in light of findings regarding the benefits and acceptability of new seat belt use technologies, the 1974 legislation prohibiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from requiring their use in vehicles should be reconsidered. In particular, the congressional request asks whether any legislative or regulatory actions may be necessary to enable installation of devices to encourage seat belt use in passenger vehicles. This chapter begins with an overview of NHTSA’s current interpretation of the statutory provision prohibiting its regulation of new seat belt use technologies. The manufacturers’ perspective on the need for regulation, as reported in briefings to the committee, is then discussed. Drawing on this material as well as on the findings concerning the effectiveness and acceptability of new seat belt use technologies summarized in the preceding chapters, the committee provides its key findings and recommends a strategy to help ensure the successful introduction of new seat belt use technologies as part of an overall effort to increase belt use. The chapter ends with a brief assessment of the potential benefits of that strategy. NHTSA’S INTERPRETATION OF CURRENT STATUTORY CONSTRAINTS In 1998, NHTSA was petitioned to commence a rulemaking to amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208 so that the agency could require effective seat belt inducements in new vehicles other than the ignition interlock or a continuous buzzer of the type NHTSA is prohibited from requiring (Nash and Friedman 1998). The petitioners cited the irrelevance of the interlock experience today in view of substantially higher levels of belt use and more comfortable belt designs. They recommended that NHTSA consider requiring such technologies as continuous visual reminders, intermittent and repeating audible warnings,

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use interlocks that disrupt comfort systems (e.g., radio and CD player, heat and air-conditioning), and other similar systems.1 NHTSA denied the petition on the grounds of the uncertainty of the safety benefits and the questionable acceptability to the public of the proposed devices, citing earlier public resistance to the ignition interlock system (Federal Register 1999, 60,626). The response also noted that some of the suggested systems (e.g., audible warnings beyond 8 seconds) fall outside of NHTSA’s regulatory authority. NHTSA is prohibited by law from requiring buzzers beyond the 8-second time period, and the agency has interpreted this to mean that it cannot require manufacturers to provide audible sound beyond 8 seconds. The response, however, recognized the life-saving potential of even small increases in seat belt use that new technologies could achieve. Citing the newly introduced Ford BeltMinder™, NHTSA noted that the agency does not have the authority to require such a system, but encouraged vehicle manufacturers to consider voluntarily introducing belt reminder systems and other innovative technologies that could increase seat belt use in ways acceptable to their customers (Federal Register 1999, 60,626). Since this response and NHTSA Administrator Runge’s appeal to the automobile industry encouraging installment of systems such as the Ford BeltMinder that go beyond the minimum federal requirements, NHTSA’s Chief Counsel has issued several clarifications concerning the legality of voluntarily provided belt reminder and interlock systems.2 In response to questions about the legality of the Ford BeltMinder and an enhanced seat belt reminder system recently developed by General Motors Corporation, the Chief Counsel noted that the federal requirement for a 4- to 8-second system is a minimum standard. Voluntary chime-and-light belt reminder systems that go beyond the minimum standard do not conflict with the requirements of FMVSS 208 as long as 1 The petition also suggested that NHTSA take the lead in encouraging nonmandatory measures, such as a joint government–industry research and testing program to identify effective seat belt use technologies, a voluntary committee to develop a consensus consumer information standard for seat belt inducement systems, and insurance discounts for equipped vehicles that meet the consensus standard (Nash and Friedman 1998). 2 These interpretation letters can be found in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s electronic docket management system (dms.dot.gov) at Docket Nos. 9899 (Items 1 and 2), 13379, 14742, 15006, and 15156 (Items 1, 2, and 3).

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use the vehicle manufacturer provides some way of distinguishing the voluntary chime from the “federal” chime for compliance-testing purposes. This can be accomplished either by a break in time between the required and voluntary signal or by audible alerts with different tones.3 The Chief Counsel noted further that cost should not be a deterrent to vehicle manufacturers in voluntarily installing enhanced belt reminder systems, at least for front-seat occupants. As advanced air bag requirements are phased into the new vehicle fleet starting on September 1, 2003, all manufacturers will have some type of front-seat occupant-sensing devices. The marginal cost of the additional hardware to detect that drivers and front-seat occupants are buckled up to support driver and front-seat passenger belt reminder systems is relatively modest and thus, in the opinion of the Chief Counsel, should not serve as a deterrent to seat belt use technology introduction.4 The clarifications just discussed pertain to enhanced belt reminder systems on vehicles for sale in the U.S. market. Recently, Mazda asked for a clarification of whether an enhanced seat belt reminder system being designed to meet the European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP) criteria for belt reminders would meet FMVSS 208 requirements and could be sold legally in the United States. The Chief Counsel noted that the proposed Mazda system should be in compliance because EuroNCAP-compliant belt reminder systems are activated only after the vehicle reaches a certain speed or travels a certain distance (see Chapter 4 for details), thus providing for an adequate separation between the NHTSA-required 4- to 8-second reminder system that begins when the ignition is turned to the “start” or “on” position and the enhanced belt reminder.5 More generally, in the opinion of NHTSA’s Chief Counsel, it should be possible to design systems that meet both FMVSS 208 requirements and EuroNCAP protocols. 3 See response in the May 5, 2001, letter from NHTSA to Bob Snyder, Docket No. 9899. 4 See response in the April 3, 2003, letter from NHTSA to Dr. William Howell, Docket No. 15156-3. 5 The Chief Counsel further noted that a warning system on a vehicle in use that does not provide any separation from the NHTSA-required warning signal would not violate FMVSS 208 because the test procedure used to verify compliance with the NHTSA-required 4- to 8-second reminder only checks vehicles that are in “park” once the ignition is engaged. Thus, the Mazda system in which the belt use reminder chime is triggered by speed is not in violation because the compliance test is conducted on a stationary vehicle. See response in the May 7, 2003, letter from NHTSA to David Robertson, Manager for Environmental and Safety Engineering of Mazda North American Operations, Docket No. 15156-1.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use NHTSA also issued interpretation letters concerning the legality of a voluntarily provided seat belt shifter lock system and an entertainment interlock that would suppress the radio or sound system unless occupants are buckled up.6 These systems are being considered for sale as original equipment or as dealer-installed aftermarket devices. The Chief Counsel found that such devices would be in compliance with FMVSS 208 requirements as long as any audible warning connected with the systems is clearly distinguishable from the federally required warning. However, such devices are considered as motor vehicle equipment for purposes of federal law protecting the public against products with safety defects. As such, the manufacturers would have to assume responsibility for any defects in their manufacture, design, or performance. In sum, from NHTSA’s perspective, enhanced belt reminder systems and certain interlock devices voluntarily provided by the automobile manufacturers should not be in violation of FMVSS 208 as long as they clearly distinguish between the NHTSA-required 4- to 8-second system and the enhanced system. Moreover, it should be possible to design systems that are in compliance with both FMVSS 208 requirements and EuroNCAP performance criteria. PERSPECTIVE OF THE AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS In their briefings to the study committee, the four participating manufacturers—General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and Toyota—commented on perceived problems with current regulations that could negatively affect the voluntary introduction of new seat belt use technologies, and more generally on the desirability of regulating new seat belt use technologies.7 One point of confusion was whether belt reminder systems developed to meet EuroNCAP criteria would also meet FMVSS 208 requirements.8 At least one manufacturer is developing two systems—one for the U.S. market and a more aggressive system for the European market. This dual approach reflects, in part, perceived differ- 6 See responses in the letter of September 13, 2002, from NHTSA Chief Counsel, Docket No. 13379, and in the letter of April 11, 2003, from NHTSA to Warren Howard, Docket No. 15006. 7 Honda provided written comments after the meeting. 8 This issue was raised before NHTSA’s Chief Counsel wrote the interpretation letter clarifying the situation (see Docket No. 15156-1).

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use ences in regulatory requirements; it may also reflect concerns about the acceptability of more intrusive systems in the U.S. market. The companies differed in their views about the desirability of regulating seat belt use technologies, in particular, seat belt reminder systems. Some thought that regulation would be helpful in removing potential negative consumer backlash against companies that choose to introduce more aggressive systems. NHTSA has a long-standing responsibility to upgrade safety standards as new information and technology make existing standards outdated, so it is natural for the agency to consider requirements for belt reminder systems. Regulatory requirements would also overcome any objections that might be raised by internal marketing staff concerning the desirability of such devices. Finally, regulation would help eliminate any potential consumer confusion arising from the introduction of reminder systems with different operating characteristics. That being said, some companies were skeptical that one technology could “fit” all markets. They noted the need and likely tolerance for more aggressive systems in many European countries, Australia, and Japan, where belt use rates are considerably higher than in the United States. However, some companies were unconvinced that these systems could be successfully introduced in the United States because of the potential backlash from the still sizeable numbers of motorists who continue to drive unbuckled, at least some of the time. Those companies opposed to regulation noted that the automobile manufacturers are already voluntarily introducing belt reminder systems; hence there is no need for regulation. Others thought that regulation was premature and could stifle innovation. They believe that more on-road experience with systems of different designs is needed and more evaluations of their effectiveness must be conducted before minimum performance standards should be established. Some companies went further to suggest that NHTSA should assume the responsibility for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of different seat belt use technologies. The companies were in agreement that, at present, the introduction of rear-seat belt reminder systems, even in Europe, will be limited to systems that notify the driver whether rear-seat occupants are not wearing their belts or unbuckle them during a trip. According to the

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use manufacturers, the current high cost of rear-seat belt reminder systems9 and lower occupancy rates make rear-seat devices less cost-effective than other safety devices, such as side impact protection (e.g., side air bags, window curtains), which could be provided. According to the companies, regulation would be necessary if rear-seat systems or more intrusive technologies like interlocks are deemed to be desirable for the mass market. The companies also noted their conviction that by far the most effective way to encourage seat belt use is through the enactment of primary seat belt use laws and strong enforcement efforts. FINDINGS On the basis of its review of the literature, the interviews and focus groups conducted by NHTSA for the study, and the briefings provided by the automobile manufacturers and NHTSA’s Chief Counsel, the committee offers its key findings in response to its charge in this section. The committee believes that new seat belt use technologies, in particular enhanced belt reminder systems, could increase belt use and be favorably received by consumers, particularly by part-time users, who apparently would welcome a reminder according to the results of the NHTSA interviews. The current statute that prohibits NHTSA from requiring such technologies or setting performance standards appears outdated and unnecessarily limits the agency. The reasoning behind these findings is elaborated below. New seat belt use technologies exist that present opportunities for increasing belt use without being overly intrusive. The current NHTSA-required 4- to 8-second light-and-chime belt reminder has proved ineffective in increasing belt use (Westefeld and Phillips 1976, 2). There is no scientific basis for the 8-second maximum duration of the system. Many motorists—the majority of whom do not buckle up until some time after starting their vehicles (70 percent according to General Motors’ 9 The high cost arises because of the lack of rear-seat sensors, the most costly component of a belt reminder system. International Electronics and Engineering S.A. (IEE), a European sensor manufacturer, is currently working with three European car manufacturers on specifications for a rear-seat belt reminder system. IEE is leading a feasibility study on the development of rear-seat sensors and on the solution to problems related to removable seats, child restraints, and other technical obstacles (personal communication with Paul Schockmel, IEE, June 12, 2003).

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use survey data)—report that they ignore the chime or simply do not hear it over the radio or have forgotten it by the time they are backing out of the driveway and could use a stronger reminder to buckle up. In contrast, the results of the NHTSA interviews and the manufacturer briefings suggest that motorists would be aware of and heed the characteristics of enhanced belt reminder systems now being introduced by industry, although some still thought the chime would be difficult to hear over the radio. More important, although the results are based on a limited sample, many part-time users interviewed by NHTSA—the primary target group for the technology—were receptive to the new systems. Nearly two-thirds rated the reminders “acceptable,” and approximately 80 percent thought that they would be “effective.” Preliminary research on the only system currently deployed in the United States—the Ford BeltMinder—found a statistically significant 7 percent increase (5 percentage point gain) in seat belt use for drivers of vehicles equipped with the Ford system compared with drivers of unequipped late-model Fords (Williams et al. 2002, 295). The results were gathered in two Oklahoma locations and provide a snapshot of belt use behavior, but they are suggestive of the potential benefits of enhanced belt reminder systems. The achievement of such gains nationwide would represent a modest but important increase in belt use. In a subsequent study in Boston of drivers of BeltMinder-equipped Ford vehicles, of the two-thirds who activated the system, three-quarters reported buckling up, and nearly half of all respondents said their belt use had increased (Williams and Wells 2003, 6, 10). Enhanced belt reminder systems can be provided at minimal cost for front-seat occupants because of the availability of sensors that can detect the presence of front-seat occupants for advanced air bag systems.10 The absence of rear-seat sensors on many vehicles, installation complexities (e.g., removable seats, child seats), and low rear-seat occupancy rates currently make rear-seat systems appear costly compared with systems for front-seat occupants. However, lower-cost systems that alert the driver when rear-seat occupants have not buckled up or have unbuckled 10 The committee was provided with more specific cost data in the briefings, but the manufacturers indicated that the data are proprietary.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use their belts during a trip are currently available on some vehicles in Europe. The risks posed to all vehicle occupants by unbelted rear-seat occupants, particularly in more severe crashes, suggest that the benefits of full-scale rear-seat reminder systems could be significant (Ichikawa et al. 2002) and thus may warrant greater attention than they have received to date. Transmission interlock systems are perceived to be highly effective—more than 85 percent of all respondents to the NHTSA interviews and focus groups rated them effective. However, fewer than half rated them acceptable. The highest percentage of respondents who rated the transmission interlock not acceptable—71 percent—came from the small group of hard-core nonusers. Objections to entertainment interlock systems, which were thought to be most effective for younger drivers, were weaker among full-time users and even among hard-core nonusers. This result can be attributed in part to the fact that the system would not be experienced by some people (e.g., older people who do not use the radio, drivers on short trips) or could be circumvented (e.g., by installing an aftermarket stereo). Part-time users, who found the entertainment interlock slightly more objectionable than the transmission interlock, were the exception. Interlock systems could be engineered to avoid many motorists’ objections. For example, they could be designed to enable drivers to start their cars without buckling up and to drive in reverse and perhaps at low speeds to accommodate the majority of drivers who do not buckle up before starting their vehicles. However, the negative reaction indicated by the NHTSA interviews and focus groups and the hesitancy of industry to reintroduce interlock systems for the general driving public suggest that, for the moment, their use be considered only for certain high-risk groups (e.g., drivers impaired by alcohol, teenage drivers) who are overrepresented in crashes. The current legislation prohibiting NHTSA from requiring new seat belt use technologies other than the ineffective 4- to 8-second belt reminder is outdated and unnecessarily prevents the agency from requiring effective technologies to increase belt use. Seat belt use has grown fivefold since 1974. Many more motorists now recognize the benefits of seat belts and appear to be receptive to their use. Although many

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use manufacturers are moving voluntarily to install belt reminder systems, some are concerned about their compliance with FMVSS 208 requirements. Others are wary of marketing systems that their customers may consider too intrusive. Hence they are hesitant to introduce more aggressive and potentially more effective systems. However, NHTSA does not currently have the authority to establish performance standards to encourage development of minimum performance criteria for the most effective systems or to require them to be sold in the U.S. market. RECOMMENDED STRATEGY On the basis of its findings, the committee reached consensus on the following recommendations: Congress should amend the statute regarding belt reminder systems by lifting the restrictions on systems with lights and chimes longer than 8 seconds, which would provide NHTSA more flexibility and the authority to require effective belt reminder technologies. Amending the statute should remove any remaining legal restrictions perceived by the manufacturers to integrating these technologies in passenger vehicles. Should voluntary efforts to install effective belt reminder systems fall short, NHTSA will have the necessary authority to regulate. At this time, the committee does not see any compelling need to delete the prohibition on requiring interlock systems. However, this subject should be revisited in 5 years (see Recommendation 8).11 Every new light-duty vehicle should have as standard equipment an enhanced belt reminder system for front-seat occupants with an audible warning and visual indicator that are not easily disconnected. Any auditory signal should be audible over other sounds in the vehicle. For the short term, manufacturers should be encouraged to provide these systems voluntarily so that field experience can be gained concerning the absolute and differential effectiveness and acceptability of a range of systems. Enhanced reminder systems are of longer 11 NHTSA interprets the statutory prohibition against interlocks to refer to those systems designed to prevent starting or operating a motor vehicle (see April 3, 2003, letter from NHTSA to Dr. Howell, p. 6, Docket No. 15156-3).

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use duration than the currently required 4- to 8-second reminder, and some are integrated with the speed of the vehicle. Those who rate vehicles—NHTSA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Consumers Union—should be urged to note those vehicles that have enhanced belt reminder systems in their consumer vehicle safety rating publications. For example, NHTSA could indicate those vehicles in its consumer publication Buying a Safer Car. Similarly, IIHS could note such information in its publication Shopping for a Safer Car. Consumers Union is already noting the presence of enhanced reminder systems in its vehicle safety checks and is planning to provide points for equipped vehicles and publicize the information in Consumer Reports. NHTSA should encourage industry to develop and deploy enhanced belt reminder systems in an expeditious time frame, and NHTSA should monitor the deployment. As differences in effectiveness and acceptability of belt reminder systems are identified, manufacturers should install systems that are determined by empirical evidence to result in the greatest degree of effectiveness while remaining acceptable to the general public. Should voluntary efforts not produce sufficient results, NHTSA should mandate the most effective acceptable systems as determined by the current data. The agency should also conduct studies to identify factors that will increase the effectiveness and acceptability of the systems. (See the next section, Proposed Research Program, for details.) Rear-seat reminder systems should be developed at the earliest possible time as rear-seat sensors become available, to take advantage of the benefits of restrained rear occupants to the safety of both front-and rear-seat occupants. Until that time, manufacturers should provide systems that notify the driver if rear-seat occupants either have not buckled up or have unbuckled their belts during a trip. NHTSA and the private sector should strongly encourage research and development of seat belt interlock systems for specific applications. For example, the courts should consider requiring the use of interlocks for motorists with driving-under-the-influence-of-alcohol convictions or with high numbers of points on their driver’s licenses. The experience with alcohol ignition interlocks has been encouraging. Interlocks could also be made available for young drivers. Teenage

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use drivers, particularly the youngest drivers, have much higher crash rates on average than do older drivers, reflecting their lack of experience and their risk-taking behaviors. Insurance companies could lower premium rates for young drivers who install interlock systems. Finally, interlocks could be installed on company fleets. Seat belt use technologies should be viewed as complementary to other proven strategies for increasing belt use, most particularly enactment of primary seat belt use laws that enable police to pull over and cite drivers who are not buckled up and well-publicized enforcement programs. Seat belt use technologies have the potential to increase belt use, but their effect is largely confined to new vehicle purchasers, whereas seat belt use legislation affects all drivers. Congress should provide NHTSA funding of about $5 million annually12 to support a multiyear program of research on the effectiveness of different enhanced seat belt reminder systems. NHTSA should coordinate its efforts with other federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that are conducting related research. The research would involve conducting more comprehensive studies of the effects of reminder systems on belt use; undertaking controlled fleet studies of more aggressive reminder systems; gathering more survey data on the effectiveness and acceptability of belt reminder systems from existing NHTSA and public health sources; and examining design issues, such as loudness of the chime, desirability of muting the radio when the chime is sounding, duration and cycling of the systems, and presence and design of any cutoff capability. (See the following section—Proposed Research Program—for more details.) This research should help establish the scientific basis for regulation of belt reminder systems should regulation be needed. In 2008 another independent review of seat belt use technologies should be conducted to evaluate progress and to consider possible revisions in strategies for achieving further gains in belt use, 12 The committee developed the $5 million estimate for the cost of this research in consultation with NHTSA staff and consultants, who, together, have been involved in many similar efforts to estimate the effectiveness of various motor vehicle safety features. Although the figure is not intended to be precise, it should be about the right amount given the complexity of the proposed activities and NHTSA’s extensive experience in conducting such evaluations.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use including elimination of the legislative restriction against NHTSA’s requiring vehicle interlock systems.13 PROPOSED RESEARCH PROGRAM Several million new vehicles that are equipped with enhanced seat belt reminder systems will soon be added to the U.S. passenger vehicle fleet. For example, approximately 15 million Ford vehicles have already been equipped with the Ford BeltMinder since its introduction on Model Year (MY) 2000 vehicles. Approximately 4 million new Ford vehicles are sold each year in North America. General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Mazda, and others are planning to introduce enhanced belt reminder systems on MY 2004 and MY 2005 vehicles, in many cases concurrent with the introduction of advanced air bags. The availability of vehicles with a range of reminder systems provides the basis for a number of natural experiments. NHTSA should take the lead in monitoring the introduction of the technologies and evaluating their ability to generate increases in belt use by undertaking a broad program of research, including observational studies and surveys, controlled fleet studies, and laboratory studies. More specifically, this research would comprise the following: Observational studies, modeled on the IIHS study (Williams et al. 2002), of the Ford BeltMinder and other enhanced belt reminder systems as they are introduced. These studies should provide an independent evaluation of various enhanced belt reminder systems in a range of settings (e.g., high belt use states, primary versus secondary law states) to determine whether they produce increases in belt use and, if so, whether the results are sensitive to differences in system design or other factors affecting belt use. Follow-up surveys of drivers and front-seat passengers to understand how they respond to these systems. Individuals who did not use their belts in reminder-equipped vehicles should be oversampled to explore why and how they defeated the technology. 13 The committee selected 5 years as a reasonable target for a progress review. In 5 years, many more belt reminder systems of various types should be commercially available, and much of the proposed program of research should be under way. Thus, it should be possible to take stock of the adequacy of voluntary efforts and make a judgment as to whether regulation is needed.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use Expanded coverage in the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) to examine the effect of enhanced belt reminders on national belt use levels. More specifically, the NOPUS should be modified to collect make and model information on recent MY vehicles (i.e., MY 2002 or later) so that belt use in reminder-equipped vehicles can be compared with belt use in nonequipped vehicles. Expansion of coverage (e.g., more state-level data, nighttime surveys) and an increase in the frequency of the NOPUS could be considered to obtain a more complete picture of belt use and to monitor any degradation in belt use reminder effectiveness. In addition to the NOPUS, questions could be added to two large annual national health surveys—the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)—to obtain information on belt use and the effectiveness of reminder systems.14 Analyses for the National Automotive Sampling System and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System databases to evaluate the effects of vehicles equipped with belt reminder systems on injury reduction in crashes while adjusting for other important crash factors. These analyses should not require the addition of a special code to the databases. Rather, researchers could use the unique Vehicle Information Number, which is associated with every crash-involved vehicle, to identify the vehicle make, model, and model year. Using these data, it should be a relatively simple task to determine whether crash-involved vehicles were equipped with belt reminders. Controlled fleet studies to be conducted in conjunction with field evaluations of currently available enhanced belt reminder systems. Using rental car fleets, as in earlier NHTSA seat belt use technology studies, researchers would examine whether it is possible to generate belt use increases significantly larger than those produced by the first generation of belt reminder systems. Controlled fleets could be equipped with modified reminder systems to examine the effects of such features as systems that mute the radio and CD player when the audible seat belt warning system is activated. Systems in which the intensity of the audible warning increases over time or as a function 14 The BRFSS is a state-level telephone survey, supported and funded by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (of CDC), that tracks health risks in the United States. The NHIS is conducted through a personal household interview. Supported by the National Center for Health Statistics of CDC, this survey is the principal source of information on the health of the civilian household population of the United States.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use of increasing vehicle speed could also be systematically studied. In deciding the specific design parameters to be studied, NHTSA should carefully monitor the development of new belt reminder technologies throughout the world, with particular emphasis on more aggressive technologies. Furthermore, NHTSA should collaborate with the EuroNCAP to evaluate advanced belt reminder technologies that might be introduced in the European market. Laboratory studies focused on belt reminder design features that may contribute to differential belt use increases. Once field data are available on reminder system characteristics that appear to increase belt use, more focused human factors studies can be conducted on such design features as optimum timing of system start-up in view of different buckling behaviors, loudness of the warning chime, duration and cycling of the system, and presence and design of any disconnection mechanisms. Of course, this research will cost money. On the basis of informal discussions with NHTSA staff and agency consultants, the committee believes that a targeted increase in the agency’s research budget on the order of $5 million per year should be sufficient to support the proposed research program. The committee believes that NHTSA should begin the field evaluations quickly in view of the large numbers of belt reminder–equipped vehicles coming onto the U.S. market over the next several model years. The agency has two projects on belt use technologies under way or soon to be started.15 The research program just described would substantially increase these efforts and provide the agency with the scientific basis to regulate, if such action proves necessary. BENEFITS OF PROPOSED STRATEGY The potential benefits of enhanced seat belt use technologies could be significant. If increases in belt use rates on the order of 7 percent (5 per- 15 The first project, already under way, is a $100,000 study under the Small Business Innovation Research Program to examine parental reaction to belt use technologies for younger drivers, such as intrusive belt reminder systems, interlock systems, and recorders to monitor belt use. The second study, which is planned to get under way in FY 2003, is a $450,000 fleet study of currently available belt reminder systems to determine their effectiveness, their acceptability, reasons for deactivation, and possible enhancements for subsequent systems.

OCR for page 79
Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use centage points) found in the initial evaluation of the Ford BeltMinder could be achieved nationally, an additional 1,250 lives could be saved annually, according to NHTSA’s estimates (Glassbrenner 2002, 1), once all passenger vehicles have been equipped with enhanced belt reminder systems. These figures do not include the potential lives saved from the installation of rear-seat belt reminder systems or the hundreds of thousands of injuries that could also be prevented each year. The modest additional costs of installing the systems, particularly once sensor systems are available for all seating positions, and the annual $5 million cost of conducting the recommended multiyear research program, constitute a small price to pay for the lives saved and the hundreds of thousands of costly injuries prevented. REFERENCES Federal Register. 1999. Appendix A to the Preamble—Response to Petition. Vol. 64, No. 214, Nov. 5, pp. 60,625–60,626. Glassbrenner, D. 2002. Safety Belt and Helmet Use in 2002—Overall Results. DOT-HS-809-500. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Sept. Ichikawa, M., S. Nakahara, and S. Wakai. 2002. Mortality of Front-Seat Occupants Attributable to Unbelted Rear-Seat Passengers in Car Crashes. The Lancet, Vol. 359, Jan. 5, pp. 43–44. Nash, C. E., and D. Friedman. 1998. Petition to Amend FMVSS 208, Occupant Crash Protection, to Require Effective Belt Use Inducement. Washington, D.C., Dec. 17. Westefeld, A., and B. M. Phillips. 1976. Effectiveness of Various Safety Belt Warning Systems. DOT-HS-801-953. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, July. Williams, A. F., J. K. Wells, and C. M. Farmer. 2002. Effectiveness of Ford’s Belt Reminder System in Increasing Seat Belt Use. Injury Prevention, Vol. 8, pp. 293–296. Williams, A. F., and J. K. Wells. 2003. Drivers’ Assessment of Ford’s Belt Reminder System. Traffic Injury Prevention (in press).