Great Lakes Communications, Inc.
3514 State St.
P.O. Box 860
Erie, PA 16512
Dear Mr. Ugoletti:
This responds to your September 7, 1994 letter to this office in which you stated your intention to modify a "conversion" van into a "production" van by replacing the original front seats with seats that swivel. You stated in an October 4 telephone conversation with Walter Myers of my staff that the vehicle in question is a 1994 cargo van. The vehicle has two front seats, and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 9,680 pounds (lbs.). You also explained that the work will be done by a commercial vehicle modification shop. You asked us about the requirements for swivel front seats.
By way of background, 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq. authorizes this agency to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Under 49 U.S.C. 30112, each person selling a new vehicle must ensure that the vehicle is certified as complying with all applicable FMVSSs. NHTSA has five safety standards, described below, applicable to motor vehicle seats. The original seats and seat belts on your van were required to meet the requirements of those standards when the new van was sold to you.
The five standards set performance criteria ensuring that seats and seat belts provide safety benefits in a crash. Standard No. 207, Seating systems (49 CFR section 571.207), establishes strength and other performance requirements for vehicle seats. The standard does not prohibit the installation of swivel seats in vans. Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR 571.208), specifically section S4.2.3, sets forth occupant protection requirements at the various seating positions in vehicles such as yours manufactured after September 1, 1991, and with a GVWR not greater than 10,000 lbs. Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies (49 CFR 571.209), sets strength, durability, and other requirements for seat belts. Standard No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages (49 CFR 571.210), establishes strength and location requirements for
seat belt anchorages. Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials (49 CFR 571.302), specifies the flammability resistance of the seats and seat belts. Copies of those standards are enclosed, as well as a fact sheet explaining how to obtain copies of all FMVSSs.
Generally speaking, once a motor vehicle is sold to its first retail purchaser, its use and any modifications made to it become a matter of state interest. Thus, owners of used vehicles may personally make any modifications or alterations they want to their vehicles without regard to the FMVSSs, subject only to applicable state requirements.
There is, however, a limitation on modifications of used vehicles by commercial entities. 49 U.S.C. 30122 provides that a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or equipment in compliance with an FMVSS. Since the seats and their safety belts are devices or elements of design that were installed in your van in compliance with applicable FMVSSs (particularly the five standards listed above), a business listed in section 30122 cannot modify the vehicle in such a manner as to remove the seats and/or safety belts from compliance. Accordingly, the vehicle modifier should ensure that the swivel seats and any seat belts it installs are installed in accordance with the requirements of the standards. You indicated that Great Lakes Communications wishes to maintain the safety of the original seats and seat belts. We commend that decision. NHTSA urges vehicle owners not to degrade the performance of the safety systems on their vehicles.
I hope this information is helpful. Should you have any further questions or need additional information, feel free to contact Walter Myers or Mary Versailles of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel
Enclosure Ref:207#208#209#210#302 d:11/14/94