That clumsy 2 part seatbelt means you bought a car without an airbag.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently bought a 1992 Toyota Corolla station wagon, my first new car since 1977. It's front two-piece seat belts are horrible! The shoulder harness theoretically stays fastened all the time. But if I leave it fastened, it catches me, my parcels, the pens in my front pocket etc. every time I get out of the car. If it's fastened when I get into the car, I always forget to hook up the lap belt. If I unhook both belts each time, then I have to fasten TWO seat belts, which is irritating and time consuming. Most other cars have a single, combination (three point?) belt with only one buckle. When I complained to Toyota, they said that federal regulations require all cars built after 1990 to have this two piece seatbelt if they don't have a driver's airbag. Is this true? I feel like I've seen plenty of other 1990 and later model cars that don't have the two piece belts or an airbag.

RAY: The post-1990 vehicles you've seen are probably minivans or sport utility vehicles, which are considered "trucks," and therefore don't have to comply with passenger car safety regulations.

TOM: What the law requires is that by 1990, all PASSENGER CARS be equipped with a "passive restraint"--that is, a restraint system which does not require the driver to do anything in order to be protected. Some manufacturers complied with the law by installing a driver's side airbag. And in fact, the new, 1993 Corolla has one.

RAY: Other manufacturers Mickey-Moused it (that's the technical term, I believe). And that's what happened to your 1992 Corolla. The two-part belt technically qualifies as a passive restraint because the shoulder belt is supposedly always attached.

TOM: But as you've so eloquently explained, in reality, it doesn't work that way. Even well-meaning people like you disconnect the shoulder belt, or forget to connect the lap belt. And if you forget to connect the lap belt, this "new" system is obviously even less safe than the old fashioned three point belt.

RAY: So who's responsible for this stupidity? Mostly, it's the federal government for caving-in to the automobile lobby, and leaving huge loopholes in the law. If the feds wanted airbags, they should have specified airbags.

TOM: But the manufacturers have to take some of the blame, too. First of all, they pushed hard for those loopholes in the law. And some of them have been happy to take advantage of them, keeping the two part belts much too long, simply to avoid spending money installing an airbag.

RAY: And we've learned that the only thing that makes a car maker change a dumb policy like this is when people stop buying their cars. So that's what we recommend you do. If you're buying a new car, you should automatically rule out any car without an airbag. That'll eventually get the message through, and it's the only thing that will. Trust us.

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