Bret de St. Jeor, President
Royal Summit, Inc.
1617 South Yosemite Ave
P.O. Box 2112
Oakdale, CA 95361
Dear Mr. Bret de St. Joer:
This responds to your letter concerning how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSAs) regulations apply to your companys invention, Charlie Choo-Choos Party Train (CCCPT).
By way of background, NHTSA is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment (see 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301). NHTSA does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable safety standards that are in effect on the date of manufacture.
Based on your letter, an accompanying information packet, and the information on your website, the CCCPT has several relevant features and characteristics. The product is designed to resemble an 1800s style steam train. It consists of a six-wheeled engine carrying one person, the driver, and three coaches or trailers, each of which carries up to nine children or six adults. The engine weighs 2,250 pounds, and the coaches weigh 600 pounds. The product has pneumatic tires and can operate on any hard surface. The product is intended to be used at birthday parties, social events, community events, weddings, malls, fairs, etc. The information packet states that the speed of the CCCPT is 7 mph. Your letter, however, also states that the speed could be more than 20 mph but less than 25 mph and also suggests use on public streets. Given these two speed ranges, as well as questions in your letter related to low speed vehicles, it appears you are considering at least two versions of this product: one model with a speed capability of 7 mph; and another with greater speed capabilities and intended for on-road use.
Are the vehicles comprising the CCCPT motor vehicles?
In considering how NHTSAs regulations may apply to the CCCPT, a threshhold issue is whether the vehicles comprising the CCCPT are considered motor vehicles. Our agency does not regulate vehicles that are not considered motor vehicles under our statute. Section 30102(a)(6) defines "motor vehicle" as:
"[A] vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line."
NHTSA has issued a number of interpretations of this language. For example, we have stated that vehicles equipped with tracks, agricultural equipment, and other vehicles incapable of highway travel are not motor vehicles. We have also determined that certain vehicles designed and sold solely for off-road use (e.g., airport runway vehicles and underground mining vehicles) are not motor vehicles, even if they may be operationally capable of highway travel.
We believe that there are a number of products similar to the one you describe which are designed and sold solely for off-road use, e.g., at amusement parks, fairs, etc. If you as the manufacturer marketed the product in this manner, i.e., making it clear by labeling and other means that the product is not intended to be used on the public streets and roads, it would be our opinion that engine and coaches comprising the product are not motor vehicles. If this was the case, our regulations would not apply. We note, consistent with other interpretations, that this is a position that we would reconsider if, despite such marketing, the product was used on the public streets and roads by a substantial number of its owners.
Your letter suggests, however, that you may wish to market the higher speed version of the CCCPT for use on the public streets and roads. We say this because you ask about whether the engine would qualify as a low speed vehicle or LSV under FMVSS No. 500, and also ask a number of other questions about how various NHTSA requirements may apply to the product. If the manufacturer indicated that one of the uses of this product was use on the public streets and roads, it is our opinion that the engine and coaches would be considered motor vehicles subject to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. The coaches would be classified as trailers under our regulations. Whether the engine would qualify as an LSV is discussed next.
Issues related to LSVs
In your letter, you ask if the engine of the CCCPT would qualify as an LSV. 49 C.F.R. 571.3 defines an LSV as a motor vehicle that: (a) is four wheeled; (b) has a top speed attainable in one mile that is more than 32 kilometers per hour (20 miles per hour) and not more than 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour); and (c) has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) that is less than 1,361 kilograms (3,000 pounds). The vehicle must meet all three criteria to qualify as a LSV.
Given the language of this regulation, the engine of the CCCPT would not qualify as an LSV. As you noted in your letter, the engine has six wheels. Moreover, the photos of the engine depict all of the wheels in contact with the traveling surface. The regulation provides that all three criteria identified above must be met to qualify as an LSV. Because the engine does not qualify as an LSV, we will not address your other specific questions regarding its compliance with our LSV standard. We note that since the engine of the CCCPT would not qualify as an LSV, given advertised usage on public streets and roads at speeds as high as 20 to 25 mph it would be classified as a truck under our regulations and would have to meet all applicable FMVSSs and other regulations.
As noted above, the coaches would be classified as trailers. While NHTSA has not established occupant protection requirements for trailers, we refer you to State rules that may restrict the transportation of passengers in trailers.
We addressed above relevant legal issues including the circumstances under which the engine and coaches comprising the CCCPT would, or would not, be considered motor vehicles subject to our standards, and whether the engine would qualify as a low speed vehicle. Irrespective of those issues, however, we would like to express a general safety concern about the use of this type of product on the public streets and roads in the higher speed configuration referenced above. Of particular concern in this regard is the risk of collision with other vehicles given that the product could be carrying up to 27 passengers in a series of light trailers, in addition to the driver in the towing vehicle.
We are not aware of any considerations by this agency in the development of its motor vehicle safety standards of any particular safety matter issues relevant to a light weight train vehicle such as you present here and are considering for on-road use. This is certainly the case with regard to the establishment of the special LSV category of motor vehicles. NHTSA designed this category of motor vehicles, which is subject to very limited safety requirements, to accommodate the use of certain small vehicles, including small golf cars, in controlled, low-speed environments, such as retirement communities. We were not contemplating products carrying large numbers of passengers such as the CCCPT. As such, we must note that there has been no full and formal consideration of all of the safety issues relevant to products such as the CCCPT.
We also would point out that safety concerns related to carrying passengers in a series of light trailers on the public streets and roads would be relevant even if the engine was redesigned to qualify as an LSV or to meet the safety standards that apply to trucks. We therefore recommend that you consider and analyze closely the safety of this type of product on the public streets and roads as you decide whether to develop an on-road version.
We are enclosing additional information about our regulations that you may find helpful. If you have any further questions, please call Ari Scott of my staff at (202)-366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke