Search Interpretations


    Mr. Dick Keller
    Bruno Independent Living Aids
    1780 Executive Drive
    PO Box 84
    Oconomowoc, WI 53066

    Dear Mr. Keller:

    This responds to your letter in which you ask about the application of the "make inoperative" provision to the removal of advanced air bag sensors during the installation of driver seats that accommodate individuals with disabilities. As explained below, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will exercise its enforcement discretion and refrain from taking action under the circumstances described in your letter.

    In your letter you discussed the installation of a product your company calls the Turning Automotive Seat (TAS) to facilitate vehicle access by individuals with disabilities. You described the TAS as being offered in two models, but you explained that both models are essentially "a swivel seat base mechanism rotating approximately 90 degrees with articulation to clear the B-pillar during entry and egress."You stated that the TAS system is used with the originally equipped (OEM) seat belts and bolts into the OEM seat mounting points. Your letter explained that with the newer air bag systems relying on seat sensors to modulate air bag deployment, replacing the OEM seat with the TAS requires removal of these sensors. You asked if such modifications were covered by the make inoperative exemption in 49 CFR 595.7(c)(14).

    By way of background, NHTSA has authority to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment. Manufacturers are required to certify that their products conform to all applicable FMVSSs before the products can be offered for sale. After the first retail sale of a vehicle, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses are prohibited from "making inoperative" any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable standard. 49 U.S.C. 30122. However, NHTSA has recognized that it is appropriate to permit some modifications that could cause a vehicle to no longer comply in order to accommodate people with disabilities. 49 CFR Part 595 Subpart C, Vehicle Modifications to Accommodate People with Disabilities, lists modifications of certain portions of specific FMVSSs that are exempt from the "make inoperative" provision in order to accommodate people with disabilities.

    On May 12, 2000, the agency published a final rule amending FMVSS No. 208 by establishing requirements to reduce the risk of serious air bag-induced injuries, especially to small women and young children, and to improve safety for all occupants by means that include advanced air bag technology. (65 FR 30680; Advanced Air Bag Rule.) Motor vehicles certified as complying with the provisions of the Advanced Air Bag Rule will be required to minimize air bag risks by automatically turning off the air bag in the presence of an occupant who is a young child or deploy the air bag in a manner less likely to cause serious or fatal injury to an "out of position occupant."Among the technologies used to comply with these requirements are a variety of seat position, occupant weight, and pattern sensors incorporated into the seat structure. The advanced air bag technology requirements are being phased in beginning September 1, 2003, with full compliance required starting September 1, 2006. [1]

    While 49 CFR 595.7 includes some specific requirements of FMVSS No. 208 among the requirements subject to the "make inoperative" exemption, the provisions established under the Advanced Air Bag Rule are not included. As you are aware, the agency has granted a petition for rulemaking to include the provisions of the Advanced Air Bag Rule in the exemption list under Part 595. If the agency issues a final rule incorporating the advanced air bag requirements into Part 595, Subpart C, then a vehicle modifier that meets the conditions set forth in that subpart would be permitted to make such modifications as you described.

    Until this rulemaking is completed, the agency will use its enforcement discretion and refrain from taking action in the limited instance of a vehicle not complying with the advanced air bag requirements because of the installation of a replacement seat to accommodate persons with disabilities. This is conditioned on the vehicle modifier complying with the modifier and modification requirements of Part 595, including the label and documentation requirements of 595.7(b). If you have any additional questions, please contact Mr. Chris Calamita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel


    [1] A majority of vehicle manufacturers are required to certify that a percentage of their fleet complies with these requirements according to the following phase-in schedule, with credits for early compliance: September 1, 2003 to August 31, 2004--20 percent; September 1, 2004 to August 31, 2005--65 percent; September 1, 2005 to August 31, 2006--100 percent.