American International Pacific Industries Corp.
1040 Avenida Acaso
Camarillo, CA 93012
Dear Mr. Ponticelli:
This responds to your letter asking about how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA's) regulations apply to your product. You described your product as an aftermarket anti-theft device that is installed between the steering wheel and the steering shaft. The device is activated by "a key switch" and causes the steering wheel to become freewheeling, thus preventing actual steering of the vehicle. In an August 29, 1995 meeting with NHTSA staff, you demonstrated this device and stated that you also have plans to market it to vehicle manufacturers as original equipment. For the original equipment version of the device, you plan to incorporate a starter interrupt that will prevent the vehicle from starting while the device is in the freewheeling mode. You also requested information on how our regulations apply to regulated parties such as new car dealers and aftermarket service businesses. I will respond to your questions below.
First, I will give you some background information. NHTSA is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. The FMVSSs are contained in title 49, part 571 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
NHTSA does not have any specific regulations covering an item of motor vehicle equipment such as your anti- theft device. However, since the steering wheel, steering column, and the area in front of the driver are among the most closely regulated parts of a vehicle, your device could affect a vehicle's compliance with several safety standards.
Because the purpose of your device is to prevent vehicle theft, I will first discuss FMVSS No. 114, the safety standard that deals with theft protection. The pertinent part of Standard No. 114 requires most vehicles to "have a key-locking system which, whenever the key is removed, prevents: (a) [t]he normal activation of the vehicle's engine or motor; and (b) [e]ither steering or forward self-mobility of the vehicle or both." Most motor vehicle manufacturers have chosen to comply with this requirement by installing a steering lock. Because a device that causes the steering wheel to become freewheeling prevents actual steering, or maneuvering of the vehicle, it could also be used to meet this requirement. However, to be used as a basis for certification with FMVSS No. 114, the device would have to be activated by removal of the key that controls engine activation.
In addition to possibly being used as a means of complying with FMVSS No. 114, your device could alternatively be operated by a separate key and installed in addition to a steering lock, assuming that it did not affect compliance of the vehicle with that or other safety standards. However, you should evaluate whether the device might pose a safety hazard if used without your planned starter interrupt. A driver who doesn't know (or forgets) about your device could start the vehicle in motion without realizing that the turning of the wheel is not affecting the vehicle.
Other standards that you should be concerned about include FMVSS Nos. 203 (impact protection for the driver from the steering control system), 204 (steering control rearward displacement), and 208 (occupant crash protection). As our engineers explained in our meeting, even small changes to the steering column can affect vehicle compliance with these standards.
Turning to the second part of your question, which legal requirements apply depends on how your product is marketed. If your product is installed by a vehicle manufacturer as original equipment, the vehicle manufacturer would have to certify that the vehicle with your device installed complies with all applicable FMVSS's, including Standard Nos. 114, 203, 204, and 208. If the device is added to a previously certified new motor vehicle prior to its first sale, e.g. by a new car dealer, the person who modifies the vehicle would be an alterer of a previously certified motor vehicle and would be required to certify that, as altered, the vehicle continues to comply with all of the safety standards affected by the alteration.
If your device is installed on a used vehicle by a commercial business, such as an aftermarket service business or new car dealer, that business would have to make sure that it did not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable FMVSS. 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 installed your device 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.
You as the product's manufacturer 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.
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." It outlines other laws and regulations that you should be aware of. If you have any further questions about NHTSA's safety standards, please feel free to contact Mr. Paul Atelsek at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel