NHTSA defines the term “motorcycle,” for the purpose of the statute and regulations it administers, as “a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with ground” (49 CFR 571.3).
NHTSA defines the term “motor driven cycle” as a motorcycle with a motor that produces 5-brake horsepower or less. A motor driven cycle is exempted from certain requirements of the FMVSS that apply to motorcycles.
NHTSA does not define the terms “motor scooter,” “moped,” “pocket bike,” “mini-chopper,” “mini-ninja,” or any other terms of this nature that may be used for the purpose of marketing motorcycles and motor driven cycles. Those terms therefore have no relevance to the classification of a vehicle for the purpose of determining which FMVSS would apply to it. Note that States are free to regulate the use of such vehicles and may use their own terms when describing vehicle types for the purpose of their regulations.
NHTSA regulates the importation of a “motor vehicle,” which is defined in the controlling statute (49 U.S.C. 30102) as “a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways.” Vehicles (such as racing bikes, dirt bikes, or ATV’s) that are not “primarily manufactured for on-road use” do not qualify as motor vehicles, and may be lawfully imported without regard to whether they were originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS. Vehicles that are not primarily manufactured for on-road use may be entered under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of entry. To support a Box 8 entry, the importer must furnish Customs with a substantiating statement to establish that the vehicle was not primarily manufactured for on-road use.
If a motorcycle or motor driven cycle is capable of a top speed of 20 mph or greater and is equipped with components (such as lights, mirrors, and turn signals) that are needed for on-road use, NHTSA will regard it as having been primarily manufactured for such purposes. Motorcycles and motor-driven cycles with these capabilities and equipment cannot be lawfully imported into the U.S. unless they were originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS and bear a label certifying such compliance that is permanently affixed by the original manufacturer. The label must be affixed to a permanent member of the vehicle, as close as is practicable to the intersection of the steering post and the handle bars, so that its contents can be easily read without moving any part of the vehicle except for the steering mechanism. In addition, the vehicle’s manufacturer is required to submit to NHTSA identifying information on itself and the products it manufactures to the FMVSS (as required by 49 CFR Part 566), provide NHTSA with information the agency would need to decipher the VIN the manufacturer is required (under 49 CFR Part 565) to assign to each motor vehicle manufactured for sale in the U.S., and designate a U.S. resident as its agent for service of process (as required under 49 CFR 551.45).
The importer of a small motor scooter must file an HS-7 Declaration form with Customs at the time of entry on which it must declare whether the motor scooter is a “motor vehicle,” and if so, whether it complies with all applicable FMVSS. If the motor scooter is capable of a top speed of 20 mph or greater and is equipped with components (such as lights, mirrors, and turn signals) that are needed for on-road use, NHTSA will regard it as a “motor vehicle.” To be imported without restriction, a motor vehicle must be manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS and bear a label certifying such compliance that is permanently affixed by the vehicle’s original manufacturer. Such a vehicle is entered under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form. A motor vehicle that was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, or was not so certified by its original manufacturer, can only be lawfully imported if it is determined eligible for importation by NHTSA and is imported by an RI or by a person who has a contract with an RI to bring the vehicle into compliance with all applicable standards after importation. Such a vehicle is imported under Box 3 on the HS-7 Declaration form. Small motor scooters that are incapable of a top speed of 20 mph or greater may be lawfully entered under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form as vehicles that were not primarily manufactured for on-road use. Such low-speed scooters can be entered in this fashion even if they are equipped with components (such as lights, mirrors, and turn signals) that are normally found on vehicles intended for use on public roads.
Below are links to interpretation letters in which the agency’s Office of Chief Counsel has addressed whether low-speed, two-wheeled vehicles are "motor vehicles."
Additionally, an informational brochure for new motorcycle manufacturers can be found at https://vpic.nhtsa.dot.gov. This brochure will provide prospective importers of small motor scooters with guidance on the standards to which a motorcycle must be certified by its original manufacturer for the vehicle to be lawfully imported as a conforming motor vehicle under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form, and other requirements that the manufacturer must meet.
A small motor scooter that is capable of a top speed of 20 mph or greater can be imported as an off-road racing vehicle that does not have to be originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, provided:
- the scooter lacks equipment that is needed for on-road operation (such as lights, mirrors, and turn signals);
- the importer declares the scooter as a vehicle that was not primarily manufactured for on-road use under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form; and
- the declaration is accompanied by a substantiating statement establishing that the vehicle was not primarily manufactured for use on public streets, roads, and highways, and is being imported solely for use in competitive racing events.
With regard to the first condition specified above, if the vehicle is equipped with one or more headlights, but lacks other equipment needed for on-road use, it can still be imported as a racing vehicle under Box 8, provided the other conditions are met.
The following scooters or scooter-like vehicles are not “motor vehicles” that must be manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS and be so certified to be lawfully imported into the United States:
- Scooters lacking seats that are operated in a stand-up mode.
- Scooters that are incapable of a top speed of 20 mph or greater.
- Electric bicycles with operable pedals, and an electric motor of 750 watts or less, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weights 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.
Please be aware that NHTSA does not approve any manufacturers or products. Instead, it is the manufacturer's responsibility to ensure that any motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment item that it manufactures for sale in the U.S. conforms to the applicable FMVSS. The agency's regulations at 49 CFR Part 567 require manufacturers to affix to vehicles offered for sale in the U.S. labels certifying that the vehicle conforms to all applicable FMVSS in effect on the vehicle's date of manufacture. Other than issuing the standards to which the vehicle must be certified, NHTSA plays no role in the certification process.
Manufacturers of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment items that are subject to the FMVSS must file identifying information with NHTSA within 30 days from the date they begin to manufacture those products. This registration, however, does not constitute agency approval of the manufacturer or its products. You may wish to query the agency’s manufacturer information database at https://vpic.nhtsa.dot.gov to learn whether the manufacturer of the motorcycle or motor scooter you are seeking to import has identified itself to NHTSA. If the manufacturer has so identified itself, information will appear in the database under the heading “Part 566.”
An informational brochure for new motorcycle manufacturers can be downloaded from our website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/maninfo. The brochure identifies each of the FMVSS that applies to motorcycles and specifies other requirements that motor vehicle manufacturers must fulfill before they offer motor vehicles for sale in the U.S. Those requirements include submitting to NHTSA information on the manufacturer and products it will be manufacturing to the FMVSS no later than 30 days after the manufacturing process begins, and submitting information to NHTSA that it will need to decipher the VIN that a manufacturer must assign to each motor vehicle manufactured for sale in the U.S. Information on how to obtain a world manufacturer identifier that should be incorporated into the VIN is described in the informational brochure.
DOT or NHTSA does not "approve" motorcycle helmets, thus, there is no list of "approved" helmets. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the statutory authority to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) applicable to motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment, including motorcycle helmets. The law establishes a self-certification process in which the motorcycle helmet manufacturers certify that their products are in compliance with FMVSS No. 218, which establishes minimum performance requirements that the products must meet. NHTSA enforces the standard by randomly selecting and purchasing motorcycle helmets from the marketplace and testing to the requirements of the standard at independent test labs.
Motorcycle helmets manufactured for on-road use cannot be lawfully imported into the U.S. unless they were originally manufactured to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets, and bear a symbol certifying such compliance. The labeling requirements are specified in FMVSS No. 218 and the symbol DOT on the helmet constitutes the manufacturer's certification that the helmet conforms to the standard. In addition, the helmet's manufacturer is required to:
- submit to NHTSA identifying information about itself and the products it manufactures to the FMVSS (as required by 49 CFR Part 566), and
- designate a U.S. resident as its agent for service of process (as required under 49 CFR 551.45) if it is not located in the U.S.
Links to CFR Parts 551 and 566 can be found below.
The importer of a motorcycle helmet must file an HS-7 Declaration form with Customs at the time of entry if the helmet is manufactured for on-road use. To be imported without restriction, a motorcycle helmet must be manufactured to comply with FMVSS No. 218 and bear a permanently affixed DOT symbol certifying such compliance by the helmet's original manufacturer. Such a helmet is entered under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form.
A person may not manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce, or import into the United States, any motorcycle helmet for on-road use unless the helmet complies with FMVSS No. 218. A person that violates this regulation is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $5,000 for each violation. A separate violation exists for each motorcycle helmet that does not comply with the standard. The maximum penalty for a related series of violations is $16,050,000.
Furthermore, NHTSA is authorized to conduct any investigation that may be necessary to enforce Chapter 301 of Title 49, U.S. Code and requires a manufacturer to make reports to NHTSA if requested. A manufacturer's failure to respond promptly and fully to such a request could subject the manufacturer to civil penalties pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 30165 or lead to an action for injunctive relief pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 30163. Under 49 U.S.C. 30165, NHTSA is authorized to impose penalties up to $5,000 per day for failure to provide requested information in accordance with 49 U.S.C. 30166.
FMVSS No. 218 (scroll down and click on 571.218):
Test procedure (click on FMVSS 218): https://www.nhtsa.gov/vehicle-manufacturers/test-procedures
Compliance testing labs (look for FMVSS 218): https://one.nhtsa.gov/Vehicle-Safety/OVSC-Compliance-Test-Laboratories
Part 566, Manufacturer's Identification:
Part 551.45, Agent of Service:
Other related laws: