More stories related to SAEDETROIT – Safety hopefuls clinging to the idea of 4-point seatbelts becoming the industry standard anytime soon could be in for a letdown.

Auto safety executives, speaking at a safety panel during the Society of Automotive Engineers conference here, say the industry needs to focus on upping seatbelt usage before a new style of restraint can be considered.

“I think before we worry about 4-point seatbelts, at least in terms of broad application, we need to get seatbelt use in the U.S. to where it is in (leading countries),” Robert Lange, General Motors Corp. executive director-structure and safety integration, says. “We have a long way to go yet.”

Lange says safety belt use in the U.S. is about 80% compared with higher rates in other countries, including Australia, Sweden and Germany. In Canada, usage is near 90% and the roads are estimated to be about 30% safer, Lange says.

Experts agree 4-point belts actually may reduce seatbelt usage because of inconvenience.

“I think 4-point belts, from BMW’s standpoint, will not be an option at all,” Josef Haberl, BMW AG director-safety, says. He says it is most important to BMW that “customers wear the belt. If they have two or three or four actions, they will not buckle up any more and then we will lose everything.”

Haberl is not even convinced 4-point restraints add anything to the protection equation.

“I think the 3-point belt with all of the pretensioners and all of the additional safety features on it, like load-limiter sensor, together with good airbag design, is all you need and nothing else.”

Ralf Voss, Chrysler Group director-body and safety electronics, says auto makers can introduce a lot of equipment and technology to make commuting in automobiles safer. However, customers will not readily adapt to inconvenience.

GM’s Lange says little is being done to push 4-point belts in the U.S.

“To introduce (4-point belts) here in the U.S., we would need a rule change. As far as I know, nobody has petitioned for a rule change or begun to move the industry to ask for a rule change.”

Ford Motor Co. pursued the idea aggressively a few years ago and in 2002 said it was close to offering its “V4” 4-point system on a production vehicle. (See related story: Ford to Make Advanced New Seatbelt)