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Shoulder Belt Positioning Devices

Some Popular Positioning Devices


Cautions and Recommendations from SafetyBeltSafe USA

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conducted tests on three of these products, which are not regulated by any safety standard. Many similar products were not included in the tests. In addition, the manufacturers of the products tested are not obligated to revise their products or include warnings to the public based on concerns raised by test results. SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. has requested that NHTSA adopt standards for after-market products used with child restraints and vehicle safety belts, none of which are covered by existing regulations.

Excerpts from "Evaluation of Devices to Improve Shoulder Belt Fit," based on tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, published in August, 1996:

"The apparent leading motivation behind the development of these types of devices is to improve lap/shoulder belt fit… [but] the performance of the vehicle’s restraint system should not be detrimentally affected by the use of such a device. All of the devices evaluated in this study produced some degradation in the performance of the lap/shoulder belt system… With the increase in belt comfort due to OEM [vehicle] equipment, it is anticipated that the need for after market belt fit devices will decrease."

After discussing the test results with several safety experts, SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. makes the following recommendations:

  1. Do not use any of these devices for children, who should use a belt-positioning booster to improve the positioning of the lap/shoulder belt and the fit of the vehicle seat. All boosters fit up to at least 60 lbs.; maximum weights vary from 60-100 lbs.
  2. For short adults and children too big to fit in a booster, check the vehicle owner’s manual to find out if the shoulder belt has a movable shoulder belt anchor.
  3. Try special products or home-made remedies to improve comfort without changing the position of the belt. Examples: wrap a lambs wool or velour sleeve around the shoulder belt where it touches the neck; use the collar of the occupant’s shirt or dress to keep the shoulder belt from scraping the neck; keep a small, soft towel in the car which can be used by passengers as needed.
  4. Remember that the purpose of a belt-positioning device is to improve comfort, not to increase safety. The only real benefit of these products is that they may prevent some people from putting the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back. In crash tests, these devices generally did not reduce the amount of force on the neck. If you must use a shoulder belt positioning device for a teenager or adult passenger to prevent him or her from placing the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back, make sure that:
  • The positioning device is made of fabric or webbing, to avoid possible injury from bent or broken parts during a crash.
  • The device is connected only to the shoulder belt, not to the lap belt. Otherwise, the lap belt could be pulled upward, possibly resulting in abdominal injury.
  • Minimal slack is added to shoulder portion of the belt.
  • The belt is not placed near edge of shoulder, allowing upper body to be thrust out of the belt.

The complete report is available to the public from the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Virginia 22161.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission Statement on belt-positioning products

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.

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