Maryland Department of Transportation
Motor Vehicle Administration
6601 Ritchie Highway, N.E.
Glen Burnie, Maryland 21062
Dear Mr. Acton:
This responds to your letter asking whether a can of tire sealant and a method for reinflating a flat tire, in lieu of a spare tire, should be considered under Maryland law a technological improvement that conforms with applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS). As discussed below, we regret to inform you that we cannot answer your question since it is one of interpretation of state law that is not within the purview of this agency.
As you state in your letter, Maryland state law requires manufacturers to equip new cars sold in Maryland with a spare tire unless technological improvements, consistent with applicable [FMVSS], become available. Md. Code. Ann., Transp. 22-405.3 (2008). Your letter explains that a vehicle manufacturer is hoping to equip new vehicles with a can of tire sealant and a method for reinflating a flat tire in lieu of equipping the vehicle with a spare tire. You ask whether such equipment is a technological improvement that conforms with applicable [FMVSS].
Various FMVSS apply to spare tires. For example, all new spare tires must satisfy the requirements of FMVSS No. 109, New Pneumatic and Certain Specialty Tires (49 CFR 571.109), and be labeled in accordance with Part 574, Tire Identification and Recordkeeping (49 CFR Part 574). However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not mandate that new vehicles must be equipped with a spare tire.
NHTSA could regulate the tire sealant as an item of motor vehicle equipment under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq. See 49 U.S.C. 30102(a)(7) (defining, in relevant part, the term motor vehicle equipment as any system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured or any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement of a system, part, or component, or as any accessory, or addition to a motor vehicle ). However, NHTSA does not have an FMVSS that addresses tire sealants, nor have we made an agency determination that a tire sealant plus inflator is a technological improvement over a spare tire.
We believe that your letter asks a State law question: whether Maryland should consider the tire sealant plus inflator a technological improvement over a spare tire, permitting the new vehicle to be sold with the sealant and inflator instead of a spare tire. Since it is a matter of interpreting what Maryland officials had in mind when enacting the technical improvement provision, it is a question that Maryland state officials should answer, rather than NHTSA.
If you have any questions about the applicability of specific FMVSS provisions, we would encourage you to write us in greater detail regarding those questions.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Sarah Alves of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Stephen P. Wood
Acting Chief Counsel