Owner - Clever Kids, Inc.
4091 Vermont Avenue
Eagan, MN 55123
Dear Ms. Gazich:
This responds to your letter asking about how this agency's regulations might apply to your product, the "Smart Rider." In your letter, you described the Smart Rider as a "new automobile accessory for children." It is a vinyl seat back protector that slips over one or both of the front seats and secured, we assume, with the two 3/4 inch elastic bands.
The answer to your question is that there are no standards that apply directly to the Smart Rider, but there are Federal requirements that may affect it. I summarize below the relevant safety standards and laws you should consider.
As you recognized in your letter, the Smart Rider is an accessory, a type of motor vehicle equipment under our regulations. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you 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.
NHTSA has not issued any standards for an accessory such as the Smart Rider. For that reason, you should not place any label on your packaging to the effect that it meets Federal standards.
Although no standards apply directly to the Smart Rider, its installation may affect vehicle compliance with certain safety standards. 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 the vinyl of the Smart
Rider is stiff enough, it might distribute the impact of the occupant's head over a larger area of the seat back than the vehicle manufacturer intended. As a result, the foam in the seat back might not compress as deeply as the manufacturer intended, and the requisite amount of cushioning might not be achieved. We do not know how stiff the vinyl is, and this may not be a problem, but it is something of which you should be aware.
Another standard that you might want to consider is Standard No. 302, Flammability of interior materials. That standard requires that seat backs not burn or transmit a flame front across their surface at a rate of more than 4 inches per minute. If the Smart Rider were installed as part of a new vehicle, it would be considered part of the seat back.
Which legal requirements apply depend to some extent 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 Smart Rider installed complies with all FMVSS's, including Standards No. 201 and 302. 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 Smart Rider were mounted in front of rear seat passengers. Any violation of this "make inoperative" prohibition would subject the installer 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, our standards would not apply in situations where individual vehicle owners install the Smart Rider 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 the Smart Rider would be permitted.
I want to emphasize that NHTSA has not made a determination regarding the safety of the Smart Rider. NHTSA has not done any testing of your product. I am merely informing you of the applicable law and identifying a few potential problem areas for your consideration.
I hope this information is helpful. I am also enclosing a copy of a fact sheet titled "Information for New Manufacturers of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment." 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.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel