Levin, Middlebrooks, Mabie,
Thomas, Mayes & Mitchell, P.A.
P.O. Box 12308
226 South Palafox Place
Pensacola, FL 32581
Dear Mr. Lockman:
This responds to your request for an interpretation whether a Model Year (MY) 1981 Versa Sweeper road sweeper is a "motor vehicle" and therefore subject to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) that were in effect when the vehicle was manufactured. Further, you ask whether the Versa Sweeper had to comply with requirements for an occupant restraint system or for rollover protection. You explained that you are conducting an investigation, and that "At the time in question, the vehicle was being used in a construction zone, to sweep debris off the roadway."
I note, before beginning, that your letter had asked for certain information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). NHTSA separately answered your FOIA request by letter dated May 22, 1995, from Ms. Heidi Coleman of my staff, Assistant Chief Counsel for General Law.
Yours is an unusual interpretation request. Typically, questions concerning whether a vehicle is a motor vehicle are raised around the time of manufacture of a vehicle or its importation into the country, and by a person knowledgeable about the intended use of the vehicle, such as the vehicle's manufacturer. In contrast, your question asks about another entity's vehicle 14 years after the vehicle's manufacture, which makes our response more difficult. We cannot say for certain what principles would have applied in 1981 concerning the Versa Sweeper, and our knowledge of the vehicle is limited to the information you provided. Thus, a conclusive answer is beyond our reach.
We can make the following observations, however. NHTSA applies several principles when making a determination of whether a vehicle is a motor vehicle. Section 102(3) of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act defined a motor vehicle as "a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways . . . ." We are not certain, based on the information you provided, that the Versa Sweeper was manufactured for use on public highways. The literature you sent indicates that the Versa Sweeper is intended for "road maintenance sweeping and highway preparation cleaning." It appears that the vehicle might be a construction vehicle. Moreover, you indicated that the vehicle was being used in a construction zone "at the time in question." Construction-related vehicles generally are "motor vehicles" for purposes of our statute if they frequently use the highway going to and from job sites and stay at a job site for only a limited time. With regard to the 1981 Versa Sweeper, its use of the highway is unclear.
Assuming the Versa Sweeper had regularly used the highway, NHTSA's longstanding position has been that vehicles of unusual configuration that are incapable of obtaining speeds greater than 20 miles per hour (mph) are not required to comply with the FMVSSs. It is unclear how this principle applies to a 1981 Versa Sweeper. The material you enclosed indicates that the Versa Sweeper has "Infinitely variable speeds from 0-30 miles per hour...." It is unclear whether this means each Versa Sweeper can attain a speed of 30 mph or whether some, but not all, can. A Versa Sweeper that had a maximum speed of less than 20 mph is excluded. One that went over 20 mph might not have been.
You ask about requirements for occupant restraints and rollover protection. The agency has stated that "street sweepers"--that are motor vehicles--are trucks. In 1981, FMVSS No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR '571.208), required open-bodied light trucks to have a lap belt system. There was no rollover requirement.
If you have any further questions, please contact Ms. Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel
ref:VSA102(3) d:8/2/95 In 1994, the Safety Act was recodified, without substantial change, at 49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq. The motor vehicle" definition is set forth in section 30102(a).