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Interpretation ID: 10754

Mr. Truman J. Lothen
1340 42nd Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55421

Dear Mr. Lothen:

This responds to your letter of February 6, 1995, requesting information on requirements applicable to a "van seat/bed for aftermarket installation." Your questions and our response to each follows.

Does your department have safety standards that must (should) be designed into aftermarket vehicles seats?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Federal law prohibits any person from manufacturing, introducing into commerce, selling, or importing any new motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicle or equipment item is in conformity with all applicable safety standards. NHTSA, however, does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, nor do we endorse any commercial products. Instead, each manufacturer is required to "self-certify" that its products meet all applicable safety standards.

There are five safety standards that are relevant to your inquiry: Standard No. 207, Seating Systems, Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies, Standard No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, and Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials.

Standard No. 209 sets forth strength, elongation, webbing width, durability, and other requirements for seat belt assemblies. This standard applies to all seat belt assemblies for use in motor vehicles, regardless of whether the belts are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacements. Hence, any seat belts installed on the aftermarket seat have to be certified as complying with Standard No. 209.

The remaining four standards apply only to new vehicles. If the aftermarket seat were installed before the vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale, the vehicle would have to be certified as complying with all applicable standards, including these four, with the aftermarket

seat installed. Standard No. 207 establishes strength and other performance requirements for vehicle seats. Standard No. 208 sets forth requirements for occupant protection at the various seating positions in vehicles. Standard No. 210 establishes strength and location requirements for seat belt anchorages. Finally, Standard No. 302 specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in motor vehicles, specifically including seat cushions, seat backs, and seat belts. While aftermarket seats, as items of equipment, are not required to meet these requirements, you may wish to use these standards as design guidelines.

After a vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale; i.e., the first retail sale of the vehicle, the only provision in Federal law that affects a vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable safety standard is set forth in 49 U.S.C. 30122(b). 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 ... in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard.

Any violation of this "make inoperative" prohibition would subject the violator to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. Please note that the "make inoperative" provision prohibits those entities from performing aftermarket modifications that they know or should know will degrade the safety of the vehicle as it was before the modification.

Please note also that the "make inoperative" prohibition does not apply to modifications vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, Federal law would not apply in situations where vehicle owners install your seat in their own vehicles, even if the installation were to result in the vehicle no longer complying with the safety standards. However, individual States have the authority to regulate modifications that individual vehicle owners may make to their own vehicles.

Finally, as a manufacturer, you would be subject to federal requirements concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety (49 U.S.C. 30118-30121). I have enclosed a sheet for new manufacturers that discusses the basic requirements of our standards and regulations, including the provisions relating to manufacturers' responsibilities to ensure that their products are free of safety-related defects.

This seat would be provided with a lap seat belt and shoulder belt with one end attached to the seat frame and the other to the vehicle structure similar to what's currently used in automobiles. What safety design standards must be incorporated into this restraint system?

As explained above, the seat belt would have to comply with Standard No. 209. If you install seat belts manufactured by another company, that company should have certified compliance with that standard.

Would this seat require compliance testing to meet safety requirements?

As noted above, if these seats are installed in a vehicle prior to the vehicle's first sale for purposes other than resale, the vehicle must be certified as complying with all applicable safety standards with the seat installed. NHTSA's position on what steps manufacturers must take before certifying that their vehicles or equipment comply with applicable safety standards has been often stated and applies with equal force in your situation.

Our position is as follows. The compliance test procedures set forth in the safety standards must be followed by this agency during our compliance testing. With respect to your company's seats, this means that NHTSA's compliance testing for the vehicle would be conducted using the test procedures set forth in the relevant safety standard or standards. Manufacturers certifying compliance with the safety standards are not required to follow exactly the compliance test procedures set forth in the applicable standard. In fact, manufacturers are not required to conduct any actual testing before certifying that their products comply with applicable safety standards. However, to avoid liability for civil penalties if the vehicle were determined not to comply with a safety standard, the certifying manufacturer is required to exercise "reasonable care" to assure compliance and in making its certification. It may be simplest for the manufacturer to establish that it exercised "reasonable care" if the manufacturer has conducted testing that strictly followed the compliance test procedures set forth in the standard. However, "reasonable care" might also be shown by using modified test procedures, engineering analyses, computer simulations, and the like. Thus, the entity that installs your seat in a vehicle prior to the vehicle's first sale will have to decide for itself, in the first instance, what information it needs to make its certification in the exercise of "reasonable care."

As noted above, if the seat were installed after the first purchase of the vehicle in good faith for purposes other than resale, any manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair shop that performed the installation would have to ensure that the installation did not "make inoperative" compliance with any applicable safety standard. Your company should carefully examine your product and the proposed installation instructions and compare those with the requirements of the safety standards, to determine if installing your product in accordance with your instructions would result in the vehicle no longer complying with the standards.

I hope you find this information helpful. I have enclosed information on how to get copies of those standards and regulations. If you have any other questions, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.


Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel Enclosure ref: 207 d:3/31/95