NHTSA considering the use of seat belt-based ignition interlocks image

Federal regulators of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced they are are examining the use of seat belt-based ignition interlocks in light vehicles.

The U.S. government required interlocks on nearly all 1974-model cars before public backlash prompted Congress to eliminate the unpopular regulation. Ignition interlocks are in use today in some states. However, they are generally tied to the use of a breathalyzer. The car cannot be shifted into drive unless someone blows into the machine and the reading indicates the driver is sober.

Last year, Congress gave NHTSA permission to write regulations allowing automakers to voluntarily install seat belt interlocks to meet compliance measures. NHTSA emphasized any automaker could add interlocks, but they would still have to comply with the unbelted test.

New rules might allow automakers to use interlocks rather than be forced to meet crash requirements for occupants not wearing seat belts. NHTSA believes that could allow automakers “the design freedom to create innovative lightweight vehicle concepts.”

As part of a petition to use interlocks, BMW noted that interlocks could save hundreds of lives by requiring seat belt use. Additionally, the move could allow the German maker to remove knee bolsters, which would no longer be needed to keep occupants in place in a collision. The resulting vehicle would be more spacious and lighter, and, as a result, more fuel-efficient.