Mr. Jiro Doi
Vice President and General Manager
Mitsubishi Motors America, Inc.
1111 19th Street, NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. Doi:

This responds to your letter to me requesting interpretation of paragraph S4.4.2 of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 206, ADoor locks and door retention components.@ You raised a number of issues that I will discuss below in the order presented.

The latch, hinge, and lock requirements of FMVSS No. 206 were extended to the back doors of passenger cars and multipurpose passenger vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less, including hatchbacks, station wagons, sport utility vehicles, and passenger vans, by a final rule published in the Federal Register on September 28, 1995 (60 FR 50124) (copy enclosed). S4.4.2 was added to the standard by that final rule and provides:

Each back door system equipped with interior door handles or that leads directly into a compartment that contains one or more seating accommodations shall be equipped with a locking mechanism with operating means in both the interior and exterior of the vehicle. When the locking mechanism is engaged, both the inside and outside door handles or other latch release controls shall be inoperative.

Question 1.

You first ask about a vehicle with a back door leading directly into a compartment containing seating accommodations. The back door system on such a vehicle must be equipped with a locking mechanism meeting the location and performance requirements of S4.4.2. Under S4.4.2, engagement of the locking mechanism must make the door handles or other latch release controls inoperative.

You ask whether your understanding is correct that an "interior door handle" means "a handle located directly on the door," and not a back door latch release located next to the driver's seat or front passenger's seat. You believe that a back door release next to the driver's seat need not be inoperative when the locking mechanism is engaged.

You are correct that "interior door handle" means a handle attached directly to the interior side of a vehicle door. The door lock and handle requirements were originally imposed on rear side doors to reduce "inadvertent door openings due to impact upon or movement of the inside or outside door handle" (33 FR 6465, April 27, 1968). The agency reasoned that with the door lock engaged - that is, in the locked position - and the door handles thereby "inoperative" - that is, unable to open the door - unintentional door openings would be reduced. The rule was also intended as a child protection device by preventing the opening of the rear door by movement of the inside rear door handle. It is clear, therefore, that in establishing these requirements, the agency envisioned handles mounted directly onto the door. The agency reaffirmed and relied on that rationale in extending S4.4.2 to back doors (60 FR 50124, 50130).

However, with respect to a back door release mechanism located next to the driver's or the front passenger's seat, S4.4.2 provides that when the back door locking mechanism is engaged, the interior and exterior door handles or other latch release controls must be inoperative. Thus, a remote latch release mechanism located in the front of the vehicle, clearly an "other latch release control," must, like the handles mounted on the doors, also be inoperative when the locking mechanism is engaged.

Question Two.

Your next issue, also involving S4.4.2, asks whether back doors "that lead directly into a compartment that contains one or more seating accommodations" would include vehicles in which a passenger would have to climb over the back of the rear seat in order to reach a designated seating position. You state that "leading directly into a compartment" means that the seats are "easily accessible" and if one must climb over the seat back to reach a seating position, the seating position would not be easily accessible.

Your understanding is correct. The agency qualified the back door lock requirements by providing that, unless equipped with a door handle, only a back door "that leads directly into a compartment that contains one or more seating accommodations" need comply with S4.4.2. That means a door through which vehicle occupants enter from outside the vehicle directly into a vehicle compartment in which occupant seats are located, or exit the vehicle directly from a compartment in which they have been seated to the outside of the vehicle. That does not include doors leading into a compartment, such as a cargo compartment, in which there are no seating positions and that would require an occupant to climb over the back of a seat in order to reach a seating position.

Question Three. You ask whether a configuration in which half or all of the rear seat is removable would be subject to S4.4.2. Where the seats are removable, as with the vehicle depicted in your enclosed picture, the back door leads into a cargo space and removal of the seats merely extends the cargo space. Thus, unless that back door was equipped with a door handle, it would not need to meet S4.4.2, whether or not the seats were removed.

Question Four. Your final issue refers to the requirement in S4.4.2 that applicable vehicles be equipped with "a locking mechanism with operating means in both the interior and exterior of the vehicle." You believe that a vehicle equipped with an electronic central door lock mechanism operable from the driver's seat or the front passenger seat does not need any other interior door lock operating means. You also believe that an exterior key lock without a handle, such as on a hatchback, suffices as the required exterior operating means.

You are correct on both counts. The requirement in S4.4.1 originates from an identical requirement in S4.1.3, which applies to side door locks. In interpreting S4.1.3, NHTSA stated that a central system that engages all door locks but that is controlled from the front door arm rests constitutes an interior operating means in satisfaction of such requirement (see letter to BMW of North America, Inc., dated October 7, 1993, copy enclosed). Following this interpretation, we conclude that the operating means for the locking mechanism on your vehicle may be operable from the driver=s seat or the front passenger seat. A key-operated lock on the outside of the door would meet the requirement, whether or not equipped with a handle, since all that is required is an "operating means" to engage the lock.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Should you have any further questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact Walter Myers of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.


Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel


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