Richard Mark Gergel, Esq.
Gergel, Burnette, Nickles,
Grant & Leclair, P.A.
P.O. Box 1866
Columbia, SC 29202-1866

Dear Mr. Gergel:

We have received your letter of June 5, 1995, concerning "the applicability of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to transactions between a local car dealer and purchasers within the same state." The litigation in which you are involved concerns the sale of a motor vehicle to a school to transport students. This vehicle, which had the capacity to carry more than 10 persons, "did not meet the safety standards for a `school bus' under the Act." The defendant dealer asserts that a transaction between a dealer and purchaser within the same state is beyond the scope of the Act "since such a transaction allegedly is not within interstate commerce."

Taylor Vinson of this office talked with you on June 14 for a clarification of the facts. We understand that the vehicle in this case was a cargo van originally manufactured by Ford Motor Company and which, before its first purchase in good faith other than for resale, by a private school, was altered by persons not yet known to carry more than 10 persons. The vehicle does not appear to carry the certification of its alterer. The plaintiff in your case is the estate of a child killed while being transported in the vehicle. Under South Carolina law, failure to comply with a Federal safety statute is negligence per se. As noted above, the defendant dealer asserts that there is no violation of the Act because the sale of the vehicle did not occur in interstate commerce, and, hence, that it was not negligent per se.

This is our interpretation of the relevant portions of 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 - Motor Vehicle Safety (formerly known as the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act). Section 30112(a) provides as follows:

Except as provided in this section, sections 30113 and 30114 of this title, and subchapter III of this chapter, . . . a person may not manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce, or import into the United States, any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment manufactured on or after the date an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter takes effect unless the vehicle or equipment complies with the standard and is covered by a certification issued under section 30115 of this title.

The sale or offer for sale of a nonconforming motor vehicle which is not certified as conforming to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards is a violation of 49 U.S.C. 30112(a), regardless of whether the purchaser and seller reside in the same state. The phrase "introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce" is self-contained and separated by commas from the rest of the prohibited acts. It in no way modifies the words "sell" and "offer for sale," which are violations separate and distinct from those of introducing or delivering for introduction in interstate commerce a noncomplying or uncertified motor vehicle. Thus, the case that you refer to, National Association of Motor Bus Owners v. Brinegar, 483 F.2d 1294 (D.C. Cir. 1973), is irrelevant to the issue of whether the dealer violated section 30112(a) by selling the vehicle in question.

As noted above, the statute provides certain exemptions and defenses that may be applicable to the question of whether there has been a violation of section 30112(a). The general and special exemptions of sections 30113 and 30114, and the import exemptions of subchapter III are not relevant here. However, if the dealer can establish that any of the following defenses set out in section 30112(b) apply, there would be no violation.

C If the vehicle had previously been in use before it was sold to the school (section 30112(b)(1))

C If the dealer had no reason to know at the time it offered for sale and sold the vehicle to the private school, despite exercising reasonable care, that the van did not comply with Federal school bus safety standards. (section 30112(b)(2)(A))

C If the dealer held a certificate by the manufacturer stating that the vehicle complied with applicable Federal school bus safety standards, and did not know about the noncompliance before sale to the school. (section 30112(b)(2)(B))

Further, it appears that the alterer of this vehicle may have violated 49 CFR 568.8, a regulation issued under the authority of 49 U.S.C. 30115. Under this regulation, one who alters a

certified vehicle before its first purchase in good faith for other than resale must affix its certification that the vehicle as altered complies with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards.

If you have any further questions, please contact Taylor Vinson at (202) 366-5263.


John Womack Acting Chief Counsel ref:VSA d:6/23/95