Robert D. Dods, Staff Assistant
Honolulu Office
Senator Daniel K. Inouye
Room 7325
Prince Kuhio Federal Building
300 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu HI 96850-4975

Dear Mr. Dods:

Joseph Cindrich, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Regional Administrator, has forwarded for reply your letter to him of January 25, 1995. You asked for verification that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards apply to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), and "if the office responsible for enforcement would notify the appropriate CNMI officials of the compliance requirements."

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards clearly apply in the CNMI. In 1994, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq., was recodified as 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 - Motor Vehicle Safety. As part of the recodification, "the Northern Mariana Islands" was added to the definition of a "State" (49 CFR 30102(a)(10)). This means that it is a violation of 49 U.S.C. 30112(a), (cited in the 1987 letter as 15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(1)(A)), to import a vehicle into the CNMI that does not comply with the Safety Standards.

The recodification reflected existing law, and the Safety Standards applied long before it occurred. I enclose a copy of a letter that this Office sent to Ellen A. Lockwood, Assistant United States Attorney, Guam, on December 30, 1987, in which we informed her that the Safety Standards applied in the CNMI at that time, even though the regulations of the U.S. Customs Service did not. I find no record of a response from her. Given the geographical proximity of the United States Attorney's office to the CNMI and the fact that NHTSA has no employees west of California, we recommend that apparent violations be reported to that Office.

Between the 1987 letter and the recodification of 1994, Congress enacted the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-562) which revoked the joint NHTSA - U.S. Customs regulatory authority of 15 U.S.C. 1397(b)(3). Pursuant to the 1988 legislation, NHTSA issued its own import regulation, 49 CFR Part 591, which has superseded the previous joint NHTSA-U.S. Customs regulation, 19 CFR 12.80, with respect to the importation of vehicles and equipment subject to the Safety Standards. As the 1987 letter notes, 12.80 did not apply to the CNMI because the CNMI is outside the Customs Territory of the United States. However, Part 591 clearly applies in the CNMI since it implements Chapter 301.


Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel

Enclosure ref:VSA d:3/9/95