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09-003484 passenger seat

David E. Barnhart

Chief Engineer

The Vehicle Production Group

1355 Combermere Drive

Troy, MI 48083

Dear Mr. Barnhart:

This letter responds to your request for an interpretation regarding the applicability of certain Federal motor vehicle safety standards (Standards) to a vehicle location with a wheelchair tie-down position in lieu of an installed front passenger seat. This also follows up on the meeting you had requested with agency staff, in which you explained your interpretation requests and showed us a prototype of the vehicle you plan to manufacture.

Your vehicle will have numerous features designed to make it accessible to persons in wheelchairs. Pertinent to your request, the vehicle will have a wheelchair tie-down position in the front of the vehicle to the right of the driver where a front passenger seat would ordinarily be located. In your letter, you ask us to confirm two specific conclusions that you have reached regarding this feature. First, you ask us to confirm that the wheelchair tie-down position in the front passenger location is not a designated seating position, as defined by

49 CFR section 571.3, such that Standard 208, Occupant crash protection, does not require the installation of an air bag at that position. Second, you ask us to confirm that portions of Standard 214 (Side impact protection), which do not refer to designated seating positions, but instead to front and rear outboard seating positions, do not apply to the wheelchair tie-down position. See 49 CFR  571.214.

We note that, in your letter, you stated your belief that the performance requirements of the Standards that apply to designated seating positions, or to seating positions in general, do not apply to vehicle locations at which there is no seat installed at that position, but only tie-downs used for securing a wheelchair. Our interpretation letter is limited to the particular Standards that you raise in your letter.

You cite three interpretations letters in support of your belief that this position is not a designated seating position under both the old definition applicable to vehicles manufactured before September 1, 2011 and the new definition to vehicles manufactured after that date.[1] First, in a March 19, 1992 letter to Mr. Wm. Richard Alexander of the Maryland State Department of Education, we addressed a requirement in Standard 222, Schoolbus passenger seating and crash protection. We stated that Standard 222s requirement for a restraining barrier within 24 inches of a seating reference point did not apply to a wheelchair position because a wheelchair position is not technically a designated seating position.

Second, in a November 13, 1992 letter to Mrs. Edna Sutlief, we addressed Standard 208, which requires safety belts to be installed at designated seating positions. In our letter, we stated that Standard 208 did not require installation of a safety belt at a wheelchair securement location because such a location would not be a designated seating position, as that term is defined in 49 CFR section 571.3.

Third, in a February 4, 1999 letter to Mr. Jerry G. Sullivan, Jr., of the Braun Corporation, we addressed a requirement in Standard 208 that trucks and multipurpose passenger vehicles be equipped with air bags at the driver and passenger designated seating positions. We stated that a passenger side air bag would not be required in a vehicle that was modified by removing the right front passenger seat and installing a permanent ambulatory walk-through entrance door. We reasoned that, once the front passenger seat is removed, Standard 208 would not require an air bag for that location because an air bag is only required if a seating position is there.

We confirm that, for the vehicle you ask about, because there would be no seat installed in the front passenger seating position, that position would not constitute a designated seating position, under both the old and new definitions of that term as defined by 49 CFR section 571.3. Under the old definition, a designated seating position exists if a position is likely to be used as a seating position while the vehicle is in motion. The new definition of designated seating position, which is intended to be more objective, is based upon seating surface width. Because the wheelchair tie-down position has no seating surface, it is not a designated seating position. Therefore, consistent with our prior interpretations, you are correct to conclude that Standard 208 would not require the installation of an air bag at the wheelchair tie-down position because that position is not a designated seating position.

You also ask for confirmation that the dynamic performance requirements of Standard 214 do not apply to the wheelchair tie-down position. By way of background, a multipurpose passenger vehicle with the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 6,000 pounds must generally meet the requirements of S6 (door crush resistance) and S9 (pole test) of Standard 214. 49 CFR 571.214, S4(c). S7 of Standard 214, the moving deformable barrier test requirements, would not apply to your vehicle because it will be categorized as a multipurpose passenger vehicle with a GVWR greater than 6,000 pounds.[2] See also S5(b)(4).

Regarding S9 of Standard 214, the vehicle-to-pole test requirements, you note that S5(c)(4) excludes from meeting the requirements of S9 vehicles in which the seat for the driver or right front passenger has been removed and wheelchair restraints installed in place of the seats. You believe that this exclusion would be applicable to your vehicle, even though you are not removing a seat but, instead, would be manufacturing the vehicle without the seat. We agree with you that the rationale supporting this exclusion would apply to the front passenger position in your vehicle, even though, strictly speaking, you have not removed the seat. The end result is the same: the right front passenger seat is nonexistent. Therefore, we interpret S5(c)(4) as excluding your vehicle from the requirement to meet S9 at the front passenger seating position.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact David Jasinski of my office at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely yours,

O. Kevin Vincent

Chief Counsel

cc: Erika Z. Jones, Mayer Brown LLP


[1] After receiving your letter, but before this response, we amended section 571.3 to allow an additional year of lead time for the implementation of the new designated seating position definition. See 74 FR 68190 (Dec. 23, 2009).

[2] At the June 6 meeting, you stated that the GVWR of your vehicle would be over 6,000 pounds. You later stated, through your attorney, that you have decided to classify the vehicle as a multipurpose passenger vehicle. Accordingly, our response is based on the understanding that you will be manufacturing a multipurpose passenger vehicle with a GVWR over 6,000 pounds.