Mr. James D. Carroll
4608 Oakwood Circle
Gastonia, NC 28056
Dear Mr. Carroll:
This responds to your letter regarding the permissibility of an owner removing a label required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets, from a certified motorcycle helmet. Specifically, you ask us to confirm whether certain statements made by the agency in a 1988 letter are still current. Our answer is yes.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue 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. NHTSA selects a sampling of new vehicles and equipment each year to determine their compliance with applicable FMVSSs. If our testing or examination reveals an apparent noncompliance, we may require the manufacturer to remedy the noncompliance, and may initiate an enforcement proceeding if necessary to ensure that the manufacturer takes appropriate action.
In your letter, you quote a statement we made in a December 8, 1988 letter to Mr. Wayne Ivie regarding the removal of the helmet label, and ask if that statement still reflected NHTSAs view. The statement is as follows:
Please note that Federal law does not prohibit the helmets owner or any other person that is not a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business from removing the label from motorcycle helmets. Thus, the owner of a motorcycle helmet is permitted to remove the label from his or her helmet for any reason without violating any provision of Federal law. The individual States are free to establish requirements for motorcycle helmets used in their State, and could prohibit an owner from removing the label.
The relevant Federal prohibition on the modification of vehicles or items of equipment is 49 U.S.C. 30112, Making safety devices and elements inoperative. This section reads, in part:
A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter unless the manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business reasonably believes the vehicle or equipment will not be used (except for testing or a similar purpose during maintenance or repair) when the device or element is inoperative.
Because the certification label is an element of design installed on the helmet in compliance with FMVSS No. 218 (specifically, paragraph S5.6 of FMVSS No. 218), manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or repair businesses are prohibited by 49 U.S.C. 30122 from removing the label. However, this prohibition does not apply to an individual owner modifying his or her own equipment. Nonetheless, NHTSA discourages owners from reducing the safety effectiveness of their vehicles or items of equipment by, for example, removing required labeling. The labeling is an indication to consumers, including secondhand purchasers, that the helmet provides a minimum level of safety protection. Generally, uncertified helmets provide a lesser level of head protection for riders involved in crashes. Furthermore, as stated in the Ivie letter, individual States are free to establish requirements for motorcycle helmets used in their State, and are free to prohibit an owner from removing the label from his or her own helmet.
If you have any further questions, please contact Ari Scott of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke
 The provision discussed in the Ivie letter was set forth at 15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)(A). The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq.) was recodified in July 1994 and 15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)(A) became 49 U.S.C. 30112. No substantive change was made to the provision.