Mr. Chris Tinto
Vice President Technical and Regulatory Affairs
Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
601 13th Street, NW
Suite 910 South
Washington, DC 20005
Dear Mr. Tinto:
This responds to your letter asking about positioning the front passenger seat under crash test conditions of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) Nos. 208 and 214, Occupant Crash Protection and Side Impact Protection, respectively. Specifically, you asked whether we would consider a non-seating forward position of the front passenger seat the forwardmost position for purposes of positioning the seat in the crash tests of FMVSS No. 208 (S8.1.2 and S18.104.22.168.2), as well as FMVSS No. 214 (S6.3). As explained below, because there are design features in the vehicle that make it unlikely that an occupant would be seated in the forward position when the vehicle is in use, our answer is no, we would not consider the position to be the forwardmost or full forward position for purposes of positioning the seat for the respective crash tests of the 5th and 50th percentile crash test dummies.
In your letter, you describe an extended seat slide system for the front passenger seat planned for your new vehicles. When this seat is unoccupied, the occupant classification system recognizes that there is no occupant and will allow the seat to be adjusted to a non-seating position forwardmost location. This feature is intended to provide extended legroom for the rear passenger when the front passenger seat is unoccupied. When the front passenger door is opened and if the seat is forward of the forwardmost seating position location, the seat will automatically move backward to the forwardmost seating position.
Your question relates to positioning the seat to accommodate the test dummies used in the two standards. FMVSS No. 208 paragraph S8.1.2., which concerns the positioning of the seat in the adjustment position to prepare for a crash test using the 50th percentile adult male dummy, reads: Adjustable seats are in the adjustment position midway between the forwardmost and rearmost positions, and if separately adjustable in a vertical direction, are at the lowest position.
S22.214.171.124.2 of FMVSS No. 208 states that when testing with the 5th percentile adult female test dummy the full forward seating position is used.
S6.3 of FMVSS No. 214 specifies that when testing with the 50th percentile adult male dummy, adjustable seats are placed in the adjustment position midway between the forward most and rearmost positions.
You ask if the forwardmost, forward most, and full forward positions referenced in these standards would be the non-seating position forwardmost location you are considering incorporating into the new design. You believe that the answer is no, believing that the provisions for adjusting the seat refer to adjustment positions that are available for seating to the passenger. You point out that if the seat were in the non-seating position forwardmost location, the seat will automatically adjust to the forwardmost seating position, and not the extended forward non-seating position, when the door is opened.
We agree with your view on this matter.
In an October 2, 1990, letter to Mazda, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discussed the issue of how compliance is determined in situations in which a standard does not specify a particular test condition. In that letter, NHTSA stated:
In cases where a standard does not specify a particular test condition, we believe there are several relevant factors to consider in interpreting the standard. First, in the absence of a specification of a particular test condition, we believe there is a presumption that the requirements need to be met regardless of such test condition, since the standard does not include any language which specifically limits applicability of its requirements to such test condition. For example, where a standard does not specify suspension height, its requirements may need to be met at all heights to which the suspension can be adjusted. Before reaching such a conclusion, however, we also consider the language of the standard as a whole and its purposes. [T]he language of the standard or its purposes may indicate limitations on such test condition. Finally, in situations where a limitation on a particular test condition may appear to be appropriate, we also must consider whether the limitation is sufficiently clear, both with respect to justification and specificity, to be appropriate for interpretation[or whether] such a decision should be reached in rulemaking.
In the case you present, we considered the purpose of the seat positioning requirements, which is to assess the vehicles protection of passengers in various seat positions. This purpose indicates that the test conditions should be limited to only those in which there would be a person occupying the seat. Based on your letter to us and subsequent email communication, we are aware that you have incorporated various design features into the vehicle to eliminate unreasonable risk that the seat would be in the non-seating position forwardmost location in a crash. These safety precautions include using the occupant classification sensor, door switch, and seat belt sensor to determine if the front passenger seat is occupied. Because these precautions eliminate unreasonable risk that the non-seating position would be occupied in a crash, we agree that safety considerations are not served by considering the forward non-seating position to be the forwardmost, full forward, or forward most positions for purposes of S8.1.2 and S126.96.36.199.2 of FMVSS Nos. 208 and S6.3 of FMVSS No. 214.
You note in your letter that you are not asking for an interpretation related to positioning the seat for the FMVSS No. 208 out-of-position tests with child test dummies. You acknowledge that tests with the child dummies should be conducted with the seat in the non-seating position forwardmost location, since a child could enter the vehicle through a vehicle door other than the one triggering automatic movement of the seat, and could climb over a seat to occupy the front passenger seat. In such a scenario, the front passenger seat could be occupied in the non-seating position forwardmost location by an out-of-position child. We agree that todays interpretation is limited to positioning the seats relative to the standards crash tests with the adult dummies, and that different circumstances and considerations arise relative to the out-of-position tests with the child test dummies.
If you have any further questions, please contact Ari Scott of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke
 That letter concerned questions about how NHTSA would test a variable-height suspension system, which was active only when the vehicle was running. The standards did not specify a suspension height to be used during compliance tests.