This responds to your letter asking about safety regulations for a device you call a "Cair Bag." You describe the Cair Bag as a "comfort pillow" for children to rest or sleep on while seated in their vehicle seat belt. You explain that the Cair Bag is an "under-stuffed styrene pellet bag" that attaches to the lap portion of the vehicle's Type II seat belt with a reinforced velcro and nylon strap. You state that you will recommend the product for children over 50 pounds "to prevent it from being used as a child restraint system."
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not, however, approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. You state in your letter that everyone you spoke to at NHTSA "felt this was a great product." To avoid any possible misunderstanding about what agency personnel said about your product, I wish to clarify that NHTSA and agency personnel can not and do not endorse any product, or make commendations about products. If you understood them to say NHTSA approves of or believes your product is "great," that is incorrect, and we apologize for any confusion.
Turning now to your questions, there is currently no Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) that directly applies to the Cair Bag. Our standard for "child restraint systems," FMVSS 213, applies to "any device except Type I or Type II seat belts, designed for use in a motor vehicle or aircraft to restrain, seat, or position children who weigh 50 pounds or less." (S4 of FMVSS 213) We do not consider the Cair Bag to "position children" in a manner that a child seat positions children to better use a vehicle's belt system. Rather, the Cair Bag is simply a cushion that a child may lean on. Since your product does not "restrain, seat, or position" children as a child restraint system, the product is not subject to Standard 213 regardless of the weight of the children for whom you recommend the product.
However, we share your concern that the Cair Bag must not be used in place of a child restraint system. We recommend that the product be clearly labeled with information to the consumer that the product is not a child restraint system and must not be used as one.
While no FMVSS applies to the Cair Bag, your product is considered to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements of 49 U.S.C. ''30118-30121 concerning the recall and remedy of products with safety related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those and other manufacturer responsibilities. In the event you or NHTSA determines that your product contains a safety- related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
In addition, while it is unlikely that the Cair Bag would be installed by a motor vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer or repair business, 49 U.S.C. '30122 prohibits those businesses from installing the device if the installation "makes inoperative" compliance with any safety standard. Our FMVSS's require specific levels of performance for the belt system in a vehicle. For example, Standard 208 has requirements that ensure that a vehicle's lap and shoulder belts are installed to distribute the crash forces over the skeletal structure of the occupant. The FMVSS also have requirements for belts to automatically lock and retract, ensuring there is no excessive slack in the belt system. Since the Cair Bag attaches to the lap belt, any person listed in '30122 must ensure that compliance of the belt system with these requirements is not degraded. Also, FMVSS 302 specifies flammability resistance requirements for vehicle interiors. Any person listed in '30122 who installs a Cair Bag must ensure that the product does not vitiate the vehicle's compliance with those flammability resistance requirements.
The prohibition of '30122 does not apply to individual owners who install equipment in their own vehicles. Thus, individual owners may install any item of motor vehicle equipment regardless of its effect on compliance with Federal motor vehicle safety standards. However, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles.
I would like to make a further note in closing. The advertising literature you enclosed with your letter described the Cair Bag as "The Portable `Air Bag'." We believe this description could be misleading, because the term "air bag" is widely recognized as describing an inflatable device that provides substantial occupant protection in frontal impacts. We are concerned that calling your device a "portable air bag" could mislead some consumers into believing your device offers occupant protection similar to that of a vehicle air bag, which of course, is incorrect. To avoid this potential for confusion, please refrain from describing your device as an "air bag."
I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Deirdre Fujita of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel
ref:213 d:8/26/94 Please note that the "National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act" and the "Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act" to which the information sheet refers have recently been recodified in Title 49 of the United States Code. This means that the citations used in the information sheet are outdated; however, the substantive requirements described in the sheet have not changed.