Mr. James W. Gilchrist
5200 NW Green Hills Road
Topeka, KS 66618-1707
Dear Mr. Gilchrist:
This responds to your letter of August 25, 2002, requesting a waiver allowing a drivers seat to be moved in order to accommodate your son.In your letter you state that because of your sons tremendous size,
" he does not fit in the drivers seat of any cars we can find. The drivers seat of the cars we have looked at need to be moved back several inches to gain the extra legroom he needs."
You further state that dealerships will not move the drivers seat back because they claim relocation of the seat "is prohibited by federal regulations." As explained below, federal regulations do not prevent qualified dealers or repair businesses from moving the drivers seat rearward.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain the applicable laws and regulations to you.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq.; Vehicle Safety Act) to issue motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment.49 U.S.C. 30112(a) prohibits any person from manufacturing, introducing into commerce, selling, or importing motor vehicles or equipment unless the vehicle or equipment item is in conformity with all applicable safety standards.
The Vehicle Safety Act also prohibits manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or motor vehicle repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment that is in compliance with any applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) (49 U.S.C. 30122).NHTSA may, through regulation, exempt a person or business from the prohibition if it decides that an exemption is consistent with motor vehicle safety and the Vehicle Safety Act.Several such exemptions have been promulgated in 49 CFR Part 595, but only portions of some FMVSSs are covered.
Two standards are directly relevant to moving a drivers seat: FMVSS No. 207, Seating systems, and FMVSS No. 210, Seat belt assembly anchorages.FMVSS No. 208, Occupant crash protection, may also be relevant if the sensor for the airbag is located under the drivers seat. Under Part 595, there is no exemption available from FMVSSs No. 207 and 210 in order to move a drivers seat as in your situation.This is because it may be possible for a repair business to move a seat in a manner that preserves compliance with those standards.There is an available exemption for FMVSS No. 208 under part 595 if the modifier cannot move the seat without taking the vehicle out of compliance with that standard.This exemption is only available to a repair business that has registered with NHTSA that it intends to use the Part 595 make inoperative exemption in modifying vehicles.
As a practical matter, as long as the new holes drilled in the floor are of the same size as the original holes, the same bolts are used, and the floor is the same thickness (or compensation is made in that regard) the modifier can be confident that the vehicle still complies with FMVSS No. 207.If the upper anchorage for the shoulder belt must be moved after the seat is moved rearward, compliance with FMVSS No. 210 can be preserved by keeping the anchorage within the "acceptable range" shown in Figure 1 in the standard.We have included a copy of this figure along with the brochure, "Adapting Motor Vehicles for People with Disabilities," which explains this approach.This may be more problematic than preserving the FMVSS No. 207 compliance, depending on the vehicle chosen to be modified; therefore, you should consult the vehicle modifier before choosing the vehicle to modify.
We caution that the work should be done by a business that is experienced in making vehicle modifications and that has registered to use the make inoperative exemptions.The vehicle to be modified should be chosen after consulting with that modifier to ensure that there is enough room to move the seat the amount required and that the upper anchorage for the shoulder belt can be relocated if necessary.
I hope this information is helpful.If you have any other questions please contact Chris Calamita of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.