2075 Adams Avenue
San Leandro, CA 94577
Dear Mr. BlousJ:
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. In your letter, you described your product as a bag holder for the interior of vehicles, designed to attach to the head restraint and hang on the back side of the front seats. Based on the illustration you provided, the bag holder appears to be a 12 inch flexible strap that attaches to the head restraint, with a "rigid plastic" hook at the end from which plastic grocery bags are suspended.
The short answer to your question is that, while there are no regulations that apply directly to your product, there are Federal requirements that may affect the sale of this product. I am 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. NHTSA's authority to issue these regulations is based on title 49, section 30102(7) of the U.S. Code (formerly the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act), the relevant part of which defines the term "motor vehicle equipment" as:
(A) any system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured; (B) any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement of a system, part, or component or as any accessory, or addition to a motor vehicle . . . (emphasis added).
Although you appear to recognize the applicability of our regulations, based on your characterization of your product as "after market equipment," allow me to explain how NHTSA
determines whether an item of equipment is considered an accessory under the U.S. Code. The agency applies two criteria. The first criterion is whether a substantial portion of its expected uses are related to the operation or maintenance of motor vehicles. We determine a product's expected use by considering product advertising, product labeling, and the type of store that retails the product, as well as available information about the actual use of the product. The second criterion is whether the product is purchased or otherwise acquired, and principally used, by ordinary users of motor vehicles. If the product satisfies both criteria, then the product is considered to be an "accessory" and thus subject to the provisions of the U.S. Code.
Your bag holder appears to be an accessory and thus an item of motor vehicle equipment under our regulations. It appears to be designed specifically to fit in motor vehicles using the head restraints, meaning that a substantial portion of its expected use relates to motor vehicle operation. The bag holder would typically be purchased and used by ordinary users of motor vehicles (i.e., anyone using the vehicle).
While your bag holder is an item of motor vehicle equipment, NHTSA has not issued any standards for such an item. However, you as a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment 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.
Although no standards apply directly to the bag holder, there are other provisions of law that may affect the manufacture and sale of your product. NHTSA has issued a safety standard (Standard No. 201, Occupant protection in interior impact) that requires, among other things, that seat backs have a certain amount of cushioning to provide protection when struck by the head of rear seat passengers during a crash. Installation of your product on the back of front seats could have an impact on compliance with that standard. If your bag holder were installed so that a hard object (e.g., the rigid plastic hook) were to be struck by the occupant's head, the requisite amount of cushioning might not be achieved. We do not know how big or how "rigid" the hook is, but it is something of which you should be aware.
Other legal requirements could apply depending 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 bag holder installed complies with all FMVSS's, including Standard No. 201. In addition, although we recognize it would be unlikely that your product would be installed by a motor vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer or repair business, section 30122(b) of title 49 prohibits those commercial businesses from "knowingly mak[ing] 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 . . ." For instance, compliance with Standard No. 201 might be degraded if the bag holder 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 bag holder 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.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions about NHTSA's safety standards, please feel free to contact Mr. Atelsek of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel