Search Interpretations

08-003686as 1

Mr. Mark Temple

Bikers of Lesser Tolerance

8790 Mellowdawn Way

Orangevale, CA 95662

Dear Mr. Temple:

This responds to your letter asking several questions related to motorcycle helmets and the testing required to certify to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets. We have addressed your questions below.

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.

You first ask if there has been a change in the Federal regulation regarding the certification process for motorcycle helmets in the last 10 years. On October 2, 2008, NHTSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register proposing to update the testing procedures and labeling requirements of FMVSS No. 218. A copy of the NPRM is enclosed.

Your second question asks if the Department of Transportation (DOT) certifies motorcycle helmets. As explained in the background paragraph to this letter, NHTSA does not provide approval (or certification) of motor vehicle equipment (a motorcycle helmet is considered motor vehicle equipment). Instead, we require that manufacturers certify that new motor vehicle equipment they produce complies with all applicable FMVSSs.

Your third question asks for clarification as to what is DOT-certified helmet. DOT-certified helmet commonly means a helmet that has been certified by its manufacturer as meeting all requirements of FMVSS No. 218.

Fourth, you ask if, short of testing as specified in FMVSS No. 218, there is any way to determine if the helmet will pass FMVSS No. 218. To assess a products conformance to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards, NHTSA follows the test procedures specified in the applicable standard. Additionally, more detailed testing procedures that NHTSA-contracted laboratories use to test compliance are available on NHTSAs website. We do not require manufacturers to test their products in the manner described in the standard, but they must ensure that their product will meet the specified performance requirements when tested by NHTSA in the manner set forth in the standard.

Your next question asks why helmets are subjected to expensive and rigorous scientific testing if there is another, possibly less expensive method to determine compliance with FMVSS No. 218. Our performance tests are designed to be reasonable, practicable and objective. If you believe that NHTSAs testing requirements can be made less expensive and that adequate testing of the safety considerations can be met through less burdensome means, you are welcome to submit those ideas with supporting documentation to the agency.

Your final question asks if we are aware of any State enforcement agency that cites an end user/consumer of FMVSS regulated products for the use of a recalled product, other than motorcycle helmets? By recalled product, we assume you mean a product that does not meet applicable standards. For answers about specific State laws, you should direct your question to the State departments administering motor vehicle regulations. We do note that State agencies have the authority and the responsibility to regulate the use of motor vehicle and motor vehicle equipment, ensuring motorists and taxpayers in their jurisdictions are protected to the best of the States ability. States have sought to optimize the safety of motorists by requiring the use of safety equipment, e.g., seat belts, child safety seats, see-through windows, motorcycle helmets, tires, and by specifying that the equipment be certified to the FMVSSs. NHTSA strongly recommends the use of such equipment, as equipment meeting the FMVSSs reduce the risk of involvement in a crash, the severity of injury or the likelihood of death in a crash.

If you have any further questions, please contact Ari Scott of my staff at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely yours,

Anthony M. Cooke

Chief Counsel