Vehicles must have seat belts in rear center seats by 2008

Wednesday, December 8th 2004, 2:51 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ All passenger vehicles sold in the United States must have shoulder and lap belts in the rear center seat by the 2008 model year under a federal rule issued Wednesday.

Three out of four new passenger cars already have the belts, but only half of pickups and sport utility vehicles do. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new rule requires 80 percent of vehicles to have shoulder belts by the 2007 model year and 100 percent the following year.

NHTSA estimates the rule will save up to 23 lives and prevent up to 495 injuries each year.

Automakers support the rule, which will cost the industry $179 million to $240 million, NHTSA said. It will cost up to $47 per vehicle to install the belts.

Shoulder belts have been required in rear window seats since 1989. Congress directed NHTSA to require shoulder belts in middle seats as part of a 2002 law honoring Anton Skeen, a 4-year-old killed in a 1996 car crash in Washington state. Anton was wearing a shoulder belt but he was so small he slipped out of it.

Anton's death might have been prevented if he had been in a booster seat held in place by a shoulder belt.

Now that the new rule is in place, NHTSA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge said the safest place for a child is in a booster seat in the rear center, since that position offers the most protection in a side-impact crash.

Under the rule, automakers can install either integrated seat belts, which are built into the seat, or detachable seat belts, which are often used in seats that can fold down or be removed.

Ford Motor Co. argued against requiring integrated seat belts, contending their additional weight would make it more difficult for owners to remove the seats. But General Motors Corp. said it is making removable seats with integrated belts.

The new standard is one of several announced this year that will be in place in 2008 model year vehicles. Among them:

_Head rests that are higher and closer to occupants' heads to prevent whiplash.

_Better latches on sliding doors on minivans.

_No toggle window switches on armrests. Toggle switches, which rock back and forth, are easy for children to activate.

The agency also has required major changes to improve side-impact crash safety by 2009.