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Can the government mechanically force you to wear your seatbelt? [w/poll]

Fri, 30 Aug 2013

The National Highway Traffic Administration is considering the use of ignition interlocks in vehicles that would require the seatbelts of occupied seats to be fastened in order to drive the car, Automotive News reports, four decades after Congress moved to prevent manufacturers from installing them in cars sold in the US market. Following a transportation bill passed last year that lift some of the restrictions on seatbelt interlocks, automakers such as BMW are considering the benefits of using them in future cars. Now, before you go crying about your lost freedom, keep reading.

BMW said in an October 2012 petition that the use of seatbelt interlocks would allow the company to make lighter and more spacious vehicles, if the devices could be used in lieu of unbelted crash tests. The crash test has required the addition of bulky safety features, such as knee bolsters, that aren't as necessary when occupants are buckled up, especially when considering the dizzyng list of safety features that come standard on today's cars. Europe, which has a higher rate of seatbelt use than in the US, doesn't perform unbelted crash tests on cars sold there.

But NHTSA didn't give in to petitions from automakers to allow the use of interlocks. Yet. It does say that it "agrees with the theoretical premise that a seatbelt interlock system could have the potential to increase seatbelt use rates," which is "consistent with our past research." The agency also says it will study the safety potential of seatbelt interlocks through 2015, hoping to answer one of the main issues at hand: how restrictive should seatbelt interlock systems be?

Sam Campbell, head of US safety engineering at BMW, says he hopes NHTSA's study will lead to changes in US safety regualtions by 2017 or 2018, Automotive News reports. If the interlock systems pass muster, perhaps we'll see more automakers "add lightness" to their vehicles a bit more easily than before, while maintaining high safety standards.

Should the government consider the use of seat-belt ignition interlock systems?

By Damon Lowney

See also: BMW M4 spied in coupe and convertible form, BMW X4 tunes up its crossover game in Germany, BMW Concept X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid headed to Frankfurt.