New GM tech forces seat-belt buckling before you can drive

·Editor at Large

When the U.S. goverment rushed to mandate technology in 1974 that kept cars parked unless their drivers buckled up, owners revolted in frustration, causing the whole system to be scrapped prior to it ever being debugged. It was a typical case of a good idea arriving before it was ready, and today, GM has announced it will give it another try. Only this time, it says, things will be different.

GM's Belt Assurance System will be a free option on select 2015 models, like the Chevy Cruze, Silverado and Colorado, as well as the GMC Sierra. If feedback from customers is positive, the system may become more widespread across the GM line. Unlike the 1974 technology, the new software relies on the sensors that detect passengers in the front seats, turning the airbags on or off based on weight. If a person's sitting without being buckled, the software engages the brake and transmission to prevent the driver from shifting out of park. Owners can turn the engine on without the belts being latched, a cause of great frustration back in the early '70s.

According to federal studies, 87 percent of Americans wear a seat belt, a lower rate than in Europe and Asia. That means 13 percent of the U.S. population still won't buckle up, despite it being not just enough to get a ticket in most states, but the number one way to prevent death in the event of an accident. Unlike other countries, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires automakers to build air bags and other safety systems on the assumption of an unbelted driver — a 165-lb. man, to be exact.

Between the search to save weight for fuel economy and the cost of tailoring vehicles to different markets, automakers have begun to question why the 13 percent shouldn't be forced to change their behavior.  BMW recently asked NHTSA to mandate a form of interlocks as standard to prevent a car traveling above 15 mph without its front-seat occupants being belted up. By doing so, automakers could eliminate 7 lbs. worth of safety equipment that protects the unbuckled, while ensuring its passengers are wearing seat belts. This would save tens of thousands of gallons of fuel per year, according to BMW. However NHTSA denied this request, stating a lack of supporting material to fully evaluate the system's effectiveness.

GM's system isn't looking to sway NHTSA into revising its regulations; it's simply looking at it as a further safety measure. And proving its commitment to its customers' safety must be the automaker's number one focus, given the recent recall fiascoes that have led to spending $1.7 billion to fix old vehicles.

With seat belts saving the lives of an estimated 12,174 people in 2012, maybe it's time to erase the memory of the '70s. Almost 40 years on and with most of the public clicking their seat belts out of habit, this time GM's banking on public acceptance.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting