Search Interpretations


Mr. Brent K. Faulkner

PSC 476 Box 347

FPO AP 96322

Dear Mr. Faulkner:

This responds to your letter requesting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provide you with a letter authorizing the importation of your 2005 Honda XR230 bike as a vehicle that is not a motor vehicle. You dispute the U.S. Navys denial of a request to ship your bike from Japan based on their interpretation of NHTSA regulations to prohibit the importation of motorcycles without DOT stickers or VIN numbers. Specifically, you disagree with the Navys classification of your bike as a motor vehicle because you would plan to import the bike exclusively for off-road use. As discussed below, we cannot provide the letter you request.

Under 49 U.S.C. 30112(a)(1), a person may generally not import a motor vehicle into the U.S. unless the vehicle complies with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) in place at the time the vehicle was manufactured, and the manufacturer certified the vehicle as complying with all applicable FMVSSs under 49 U.S.C. 30115. Motor vehicle is defined at 49 U.S.C. 30102(a) 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.

Accordingly, only vehicles that are intended to be operated on the public streets, roads, and highways, as one of their primary uses, are considered to be motor vehicles, and vehicles which are manufactured solely for use "off-road" are excluded.

In your letter you state that the XR230 is a dirt bike, intended for off-road use, but is manufactured with devices such as turn signals, brake lights, and mirrors. You indicated that, in Japan, it is lawful to drive dirt bikes on the road provided that they are equipped with these types of devices. You stated that this facilitates the transportation of off-road, recreational vehicles without the need for vehicles capable of towing trailers. You argue that while capable of on-road use in Japan, the vehicle is manufactured primarily for off-road use.

We believe that the presence of lights, mirrors, and turn signals on a bike with speed capabilities above 20 mph, such as the XR230, indicates that the manufacturer intends the bike to be used on the public roads. Moreover, we have reviewed information on Hondas website concerning the XR230. Hondas 2005 Annual Report (which can be found under the Investor Relations section of Hondas website) indicates that Honda introduced the XR230 into the Japanese market in 2005 as a dual-purpose bike . . . that is suited for both on-road and off-road use. Given the available information, we believe that on-road use is one of the primary purposes of the XR230, and that the vehicle is thus a motor vehicle.

You also state that you intend to remove the mirrors, turn signals and brake lights, and import the bike into the United States for your solely off-road use. However, an individual owners planned use for a vehicle being imported is not determinative of whether the vehicle is a motor vehicle. The statutory definition of motor vehicle directs us to consider the vehicle as manufactured. We also note that if removal of safety equipment from a motor vehicle had the effect of re-categorizing it as exclusively intended for off-road use and thus not a motor vehicle for importation purposes, nothing would prevent individuals from reinstalling such equipment after importation into the U.S. and using the vehicle for on-road purposes.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Sarah Alves of my staff at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely yours,

Anthony M. Cooke

Chief Counsel