Tesa Meters, Inc.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33335
Dear Mr. Jaquith:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of how NHTSA would classify your three wheeled motor vehicle, which is designed for mobility impaired drivers. As explained below, we concur with your opinion that your motor vehicle is a motorcycle.
Your letter explains that you are developing a Aspecialized vehicle for the wheel chair [sic] bound handicapped.@ Because of "the variable medical limitation" of your potential customers, each vehicle must be customized to the driver Aand would be a very limited production.@ The vehicle would have three wheels. Entry into and operation of your vehicle would be from a wheelchair. The vehicle's top speed would be limited to 39 miles per hour.
You informed Dorothy Nakama of my staff that your vehicle would be electrically powered and would not include a seat for the driver (because it is intended to be driven from a wheelchair). You further stated that although the vehicle will have no handlebars, it will be driven by a steering wheel and by a bar that can be manually pushed forward or back to regulate vehicle speed.
By way of background information, this agency has the authority under Federal law to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards and related regulations applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Vehicle and equipment manufacturers are responsible for "self-certifying" that their products comply with all applicable standards. They must also ensure that their products are free of safety-related defects. Once the vehicle or equipment is sold to the first retail customer, the product is no longer subject to the Federal safety standards and instead becomes subject to state law.
For the purposes of the Federal motor vehicle safety standards, NHTSA defines "motorcycle" as (49 CFR '571.3):
a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground.
Your vehicle is a motorcycle because it has not more than three wheels. NHTSA considers the wheelchair seat that the driver sits in to be the functional equivalent of the "seat or saddle for the use of the rider."
Your vehicle must meet all safety standards applicable to motorcycles. However, I note that since your vehicle has no handlebars, it need not meet FMVSS No. 123, Motorcycle controls and displays, which applies to motorcycles equipped with handlebars. There are additional NHTSA requirements your company, the motorcycle manufacturer must meet. I am enclosing a copy of our fact sheet "Information for New Manufacturers of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment," and another sheet that explains how NHTSA's regulations may be ordered.
A new manufacturer must submit certain identifying information to NHTSA in accordance with 49 CFR part 566, Manufacturer Identification (copy enclosed). The manufacturer must also meet 49 CFR part 567, Certification, and place on the motorcycle a label with information specified in 49 CFR section 567.4.
I hope this information is helpful. If you need any further information, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel
ref:571.3 "motorcycle" d:5/3/96