Eric A. Rubel, Esq.
Arnold & Porter
555 Twelfth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004-1206
Dear Mr. Rubel:
This is in reply to your letter, written on behalf of DEKA Research and Development Corporation (DEKA), asking whether certain products would be considered "motor vehicles" subject to regulation by this agency. You generally described the products. You stated that the products in question, which to date have not been marketed or sold, would have either two or four drive wheels, would operate on battery power, and would be intended primarily for use on sidewalks. You also stated that the products could be described as low-speed electric personal assistive mobility devices, which are self-balancing, can operate on two non-tandem wheels, have an electric propulsion system, and have a maximum speed on a paved level surface of less than 20 mph, when powered solely by such a propulsion system and ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds.
As you know, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates "motor vehicles." A "motor vehicle" is defined, in part, as one "manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways." 49 U.S.C. ' 30102(a)(6). Accordingly, only vehicles which are operated on the public streets, roads, and highways, as one of their primary uses, are considered to be motor vehicles. In determining whether a particular product is operated on the public streets, roads, and highways, as one of its primary uses, we consider a number of factors, including whether the vehicle can be licensed for use on public streets, roads and highways. If a vehicle cannot be so licensed, we consider whether the vehicle is, in fact, used on public streets, roads, and highways by a substantial number of people.
Considering that the vehicles you describe are still in the planning stage (i.e., are not presently available for sale to the general public), no data are available concerning their actual use. In situations like this, where such data are unavailable, this agency has looked to the use patterns of vehicles similar to the ones in development. Given the general nature of the description, identifying like-vehicles is difficult. This problem is compounded by the fact that the vehicles DEKA is planning to manufacture appear to be unique. Nevertheless, we note that they have characteristics that, at least in some respects, are similar to those of motorized wheelchairs.
This agency does not consider motorized wheelchairs to be "motor vehicles." They are not licensable and are not used on public streets, roads, and highways by a substantial number of people. Thus, they are not subject to this agency's safety regulations. Based on our understanding of the characteristics of the vehicles in question and on the assumptions that they would not be licensable and would be used in a fashion similar to motorized wheelchairs, we would not consider the vehicles to be "motor vehicles."
If our assumptions about licensability and actual usage proved incorrect, we would reconsider this position.
If you have any questions, you may contact Robert Knop of this Office at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel