Laguna Manufacturing, Inc.
P.O. Box 3236
Turlock, CA 95381
Dear Mr. Harpster:
This responds to your letter of June 21, 1994, requesting information on whether a "replacement rear seat used for the transport of prisoners in police cars" complies with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. During a July 1, 1994 phone conversation with Mary Versailles of my staff, you explained that the seat could be installed either before or after the first retail sale of the police car.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our regulations to you. Some background information on Federal motor vehicle safety laws and regulations may be helpful. Our agency is authorized under 49 U.S.C. '30101 et seq. to issue safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA, however, does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, nor do we endorse any commercial products. Instead, each manufacturer is responsible for "self-certifying" that its products meet all applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.
NHTSA has exercised its authority to establish five safety standards that may be relevant to a prisoner transport seat. The first is Standard No. 207, Seating Systems (49 CFR '571.208), which sets forth strength requirements for all "occupant seats" in passenger cars. The second relevant standard is Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR '571.208), which sets forth requirements for occupant protection at the various seating positions in vehicles. The third relevant standard is Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies (49 CFR '571.209), which sets forth strength, elongation, webbing width, durability, and other requirements for seat belt assemblies. The fourth relevant safety standard is Standard No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, which establishes strength and location requirements for seat belt anchorages. The final relevant safety standard is Standard No. 302, Flammability of
Interior Materials. This standard specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in the occupant compartment of motor vehicles.
Because federal law operates differently depending on when the installation of the prisoner transport seat occurs, I will separately discuss three possible scenarios.
Installation as Original Equipment
Standards No. 207, No. 208, No. 210, and No. 302 apply, with certain exceptions that are not relevant to your product, to vehicles and not directly to items of equipment. Thus, the vehicle manufacturer, and not the equipment manufacturer, would be responsible for certifying that the vehicle complies with these standards with the prisoner transport seat installed in the vehicle.
Unlike the other four standards, Standard No. 209 applies to seat belt assemblies as separate items of motor vehicle equipment, regardless of whether the belts are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacements. The manufacturer of the seat belt system provided with the prisoner transport seat is responsible for certifying that the seat belt complies with Standard No. 209.
Your letter specifically asks whether the safety belt system installed with the prisoner transport seat complies with all applicable requirements. Currently, Standard No. 208 requires an integral Type 2 (lap and shoulder) seat belt assembly at all forward-facing rear outboard seating positions, and either a Type 1 (lap) or Type 2 seat belt assembly at all other rear seating positions. Standard No. 208 also requires the lap belt portion of the Type 2 seat belt assembly installed at any forward-facing rear outboard seating position to have an emergency locking retractor. Thus, because the seat belt assembly for the prisoner transport seat has a manual retractor, the seat cannot be installed at a forward-facing rear outboard seating position.
We note that Standard No. 208 requires emergency locking retractors to ensure improved comfort and convenience for safety belts. The purpose is to make it more likely that the typical vehicle occupant will use his or her safety belts, and also to reduce the likelihood of excessive slack in safety belts during use. You wish to use manual retractors because of special circumstances that arise when the rear seats of police vehicles are used to transport prisoners, i.e., a desire to keep the prisoners solidly restrained in the seats. However, Standard No. 208 specifies the same occupant crash protection requirements for police vehicles as other vehicles, and does not include an exception in this area.
A possible solution to your problem may be to install your belt system (with manual retractors) in addition to the safety belts required by Standard No. 208. Provided that the installation did not interfere with the required safety belts, such installation would not affect the compliance of the vehicle with Standard No. 208, since the standard's requirements would be fully met by the original belts. Your belt system would, of course, still have to meet the requirements of Standard No. 209, since it would be considered a "seat belt assembly."
Installation Prior to First Sale
If a prisoner transport seat were added to a new vehicle prior to its first sale, e.g., by the dealer, the person who modified the vehicle would be an alterer of a previously certified motor vehicle and would be required to certify that, as altered, the vehicle continues to comply with all of the safety standards affected by the alteration.
Installation After First Sale
After the first purchase of a vehicle for purposes other than resale, the only provision in Federal law that affects the vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable safety standard is set forth in 49 U.S.C. '30122. That section provides that:
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.
This provision would prohibit any of the named commercial entities from installing a prisoner transport seat if such installation rendered inoperative the compliance of the vehicle with any applicable safety standard. For example, if the material used in the seat did not meet the burn resistance requirements of Standard No. 302, installation of the system would make inoperative compliance with that standard. Any violation of this prohibition is subject to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.
Please note that this provision does not prohibit owners from modifying their vehicles, even if such modification adversely affects the compliance of the vehicle with safety standards. Thus, if a police department were to modify its own vehicles to install a prisoner transport seat, it would not be a violation of this provision, even if the original belts were replaced by belts with manual retractors.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Mary Versailles at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel