6724 63rd Place N.E.
Marysville, Washington 98270
Dear Ms. Chamberlain:
This responds to your letter asking about how this agency's regulations might apply to your product. I apologize for the delay in sending this letter. You explained in a telephone conversation with Paul Atelsek of this office that your product is an emergency kit the size of an "oversize notebook." The kit contains a radio. In completing your design, you are considering whether to attach it to the back side of the front seats or under those seats. You asked whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has any regulations as to the distance that must be kept clear between the back side of the driver's seat and the back seat. You are considering marketing the kit for passenger cars and light trucks through retail outlets, and possibly also through automobile dealerships as an optional accessory.
The short answer to your question is that, while there are no regulations concerning clearance between the front and back seats, there are Federal requirements that may affect the sale of this product. I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our regulations. I am also enclosing a copy of a fact sheet titled "Information for New Manufacturers of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment."
By way of background information, NHTSA is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS's) for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. These are contained in title 49, part 571 of the Code of Federal Regulations. As you recognize in your letter, your safety kit is an accessory and thus an item of motor vehicle equipment.
While your emergency kit is an item of motor vehicle equipment, NHTSA has not issued any standards for such an item. Nevertheless, there are other provisions of law that may affect the manufacture and sale of your product. Installation of your product on the back of front seats could have an impact on compliance with Standard No. 201, Occupant
protection in interior impact. S3.2 of that standard basically requires that seat backs have a certain amount of cushioning to provide protection when struck by the head of rear seat passengers during a crash. If your emergency kit were installed so that a hard object (e.g., the radio) contained within it were to be struck by the head, the requisite amount of cushioning might not be achieved. We note that there are no safety standards regulating the underside of the seats, which you have said is another interior space where you are considering mounting the emergency kit.
Which legal requirements apply depends on how your product is marketed. If your product were installed by a vehicle manufacturer as original equipment, the vehicle manufacturer would have to certify that the vehicle with the emergency kit installed complies with all FMVSS's, including Standard No. 201.
A commercial business that installs your emergency kit would also be subject to provisions of the U.S. Code that affect modifications of new or used vehicles. Section 30122(b) of Title 49 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 ... in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard . . .
This means that a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business must not install your device if the system renders inoperative the vehicle's compliance with the FMVSS's. For instance, compliance with Standard No. 201 might be degraded if the emergency kit were mounted in front of rear seat passengers. Any violation of this "make inoperative" prohibition would subject the violator to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.
The "make inoperative" prohibition does not apply to modifications that vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, Federal law would not apply in situations where individual vehicle owners install your emergency kit in their own vehicles, even if the installation were to result in the vehicle no longer complying with the safety standards. However, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to degrade any safety device or system installed in their vehicles. In addition, individual States have the authority to regulate modifications that individual vehicle owners may make to their vehicles, so you might wish to consult State regulations to see whether your device would be permitted.
You as the product's manufacturer are subject to the requirements in sections 30118-30122 of Title 49 of the U.S. Code concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety. In the event that the manufacturer or NHTSA determines that the product contains a safety related defect, the manufacturer would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions about NHTSA's safety standards, please feel free to contact Mr. Atelsek at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel