Mr. Reginald Gray
9111 White Bluff Road, Apt. 102
Savannah, GA 31406
Dear Mr. Gray:
This is in response to your letter in which you ask if selling custom seat belts would be affected by any Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) issued by this agency. You state that you are interested in selling seat belts with various designs and logos on the seat belt webbing. However, it was unclear from your letter if the designs would be added to a vehicles existing belts or if custom belts would be manufactured to replace a vehicles existing belts. Each of these possibilities is addressed below.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our statute and regulations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. Chapter 301; Safety Act) to issue Federal 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 any new motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicle or the equipment is in conformity with all applicable safety standards and is certified as being in compliance.
NHTSA has issued four safety standards that may be relevant to your custom seat belts. The first is FMVSS No. 208, Occupant crash protection, which sets forth requirements for occupant protection at the various seating positions in vehicles. The second relevant standard is FMVSS No. 209, Seat belt assemblies, which sets forth strength, elongation, webbing width, durability, and other requirements for seat belt assemblies. The third relevant safety standard is FMVSS No. 210, Seat belt assembly anchorages, which establishes strength and location requirements for seat belt anchorages. The final relevant safety standard is Standard No. 302, Flammability of interior materials. This standard specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in the occupant compartment of motor vehicles. FMVSS Nos. 208, 210, and 302 apply, with certain exceptions that are not relevant to your product, to vehicles and, not directly to items of equipment. FMVSS No. 209 applies to all seat belt assemblies regardless of whether the seat belts are originally installed in the vehicle or are installed after the vehicle has been purchased.
Because federal law operates differently depending on whether you manufacture, sell, or install the custom seat belts, I will discuss each possible scenario.
Manufacturer and Seller Requirements
The Safety Act states:
A manufacturer or distributor of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment shall certify to the distributor or dealer at delivery that the vehicle or equipment complies with applicable motor vehicle safety standards prescribed under this chapter. (49 U.S.C. 30115)
If you were to manufacture the custom seat belts, you would have to certify that the belts comply with FMVSS No. 209. As noted above, FMVSS No. 209 sets forth strength, elongation, webbing width, durability, and other requirements for seat belt assemblies. This standard applies to all seat belt assemblies for use in motor vehicles, regardless of whether the belts are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacements. Hence, any seat belt sold for installation in an existing vehicle would have to comply with, and be certified as complying with, FMVSS No. 209.
If your product were not a seat belt, but a component to be attached or added to the seat belt, there would be no NHTSA standards directly applicable. However, if you were to manufacture such a product, we would urge you to evaluate carefully whether your product would in any way degrade the performance of vehicle safety belts. For example, you should ensure that your product would not interfere with safety belt retraction, that any adhesive used with your product would not cause deterioration of the safety belt webbing, and that your product would not obscure the information required by FMVSS No. 209 to be labeled on the webbing. Safety belt webbing is designed to have some "give" to help absorb crash forces. If your product were to make the webbing too stiff, it could raise safety concerns. Finally, you should be aware that originally-installed safety belts must meet the requirements of FMVSS 302. Again, we would encourage you to evaluate your product against the requirements of this standard to ascertain whether your product would degrade the flammability performance of seat belts.
In either case, as a manufacturer, you would also be subject to federal requirements concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety (49 U.S.C. 30118-30121).
Any commercial business that would install your product would also be subject to the provisions of the Safety Act that affect modifications of new or used vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. The Safety Act provides at 49 U.S.C. 30122(b) that:
No manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly make inoperative, in whole or in part, any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard.
This section would prohibit any of the named type of businesses from installing your product if such installation would cause the vehicle to no longer be in compliance with FMVSS Nos. 208, 209, 210, or 302. Violations of this make inoperative prohibition are subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation. Even if your product were simply modifications to a vehicles existing seat belts (e.g., stickers or additional stitching), any of the above businesses installing your product would still be subject to the make inoperative provision.
Additionally, there may be state law considerations regarding potential liability in tort in these circumstances. I have enclosed a brochure for new manufacturers that discusses the basic requirements of our standards and regulations, including the provisions relating to manufacturers' responsibilities to ensure that their products are free of safety-related defects.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any further questions please call Mr. Chris Calamita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.