Trix Mfg. Co. Inc.
500 W. Irving Pk. Rd.
Bensenville, IL 60106
Dear Mr. Cuvala:
This responds to your letter of September 10, 1995, concerning "conference and display vehicles" you have been asked to manufacture for a client. The vehicles used are cargo vans with a gross vehicle weight rating of 9200 pounds. You convert the cargo area of the van to a product display and conference area. Your letter contained an illustration of the vehicle, indicating an L-shaped seating area behind the driver and front passenger seats. Your letter states that this area is not intended for transport of people. You asked whether such a vehicle must comply with "seating and occupant orientation and restraint directives." As explained below, the seats in such a vehicle would have to comply with federal standards on seats and seat belts if the modification is done prior to the first retail sale of the vehicle.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. Instead, each manufacturer is required to certify that its motor vehicles comply with all applicable Federal safety standards prior to their sale or import. NHTSA's certification regulations are set forth in 49 CFR Part 567.
Conversion Prior to Sale
Your letter does not state whether the conversion of the cargo area of these vehicles is done before or after the first retail sale of the vehicles. Prior to the first retail sale of a vehicle, the vehicle is considered to be "new." If the conversion is done prior to the first retail sale, your company would be considered an "alterer" under our regulations. A person who alters a previously certified new vehicle also must certify that the altered vehicle complies with all applicable standards (49 CFR '567.7).
The seats in a new vehicle must comply with federal regulations if they are "designated seating positions." A "designated seating position" is defined in 49 CFR 571.3 as:
any plan view location capable of accommodating a person at least as large as a 5th percentile adult female, if the overall seat configuration and design is such that the position is likely to be used as a seating position while the vehicle is in motion.
While you indicate that the vehicles are not intended to transport people except in the front seats, the design of the seating area is similar to other vehicle seats. Therefore, it appears from their design that these seats are likely to be used and are therefore designated seating positions.
NHTSA has exercised its authority to establish five safety standards which could be relevant to seats in these vehicles: Standard No. 207, Seating Systems (49 CFR 571.207), Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR 571.208), Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies (49 CFR 571.209), Standard No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages (49 CFR 571.210), and Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials (49 CFR 571.302).
Standards Nos. 207, 208, 210, and 302 apply, with certain limited exceptions not relevant to your conversion, to vehicles and not directly to items of equipment. Standard No. 207 establishes requirements for seats, their attachment assemblies, and their installation to minimize the possibility of their failure in a crash. Standard No. 207 does not require a specific orientation for seats. However, some of the requirements are different for side- and rear-facing seats like those illustrated in your attachment.
Standard No. 208 specifies seat belt requirements for seating positions in vehicles. For the seats in the rear of your vehicles, Standard No. 208 would require lap belts at each designated seating position. Standard No. 210 specifies performance requirements for seat belt anchorages. Standard No. 302 specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in the interior of motor vehicles. Standard No. 302 would affect not only the seats, but also installation of other materials in these vehicles.
Standard No. 209 applies to seat belt assemblies as separate items of motor vehicle equipment, regardless of whether the belts are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacements. Thus, the manufacturer is required to certify that the seat belts comply with Standard No. 209. If you do not manufacture the seat belts yourself, you should install only belts certified by their manufacturer. This is true regardless of whether the conversion occurs before or after the first sale of the vehicle.
Conversion After Sale
If the conversion is done on a used motor vehicle, you do not have to certify that the vehicle complies with Standards Nos. 207, 208, 210, and 302. However, 49 USC '30122 provides, in pertinent part:
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 or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard. . . .
Thus, you could not convert these vehicles if the conversion affected a device or element of design, installed prior to sale, so as to cause the vehicles to no longer comply with any of the safety standards.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel