Mr. Donald B. Karner
Electric Transportation Applications
P.O. Box 10303
Glendale, AZ 85318

Dear Mr. Karner:

This responds to your letter of February 2, 1996, requesting additional information in response to a letter from this agency dated January 24, 1996. Your question relates to what steps a manufacturer must take to Apermanently obstruct seating positions@ if the number of designated seating positions was to be reduced. You asked for Aany findings, case law, or policy or position statements which may have been previously generated in this area.@

NHTSA does not have a general rule as to what is an acceptable Apermanent obstruction@ of a seating position. We can, however, provide you with a discussion of previous statements concerning this topic, which may provide some guidance. We will also discuss the examples you include in your letter.

Previous Statements An April 19, 1979, final rule amending the definition of Adesignated seating position@ offers some discussion of this issue (44 FR 23229, copy enclosed). In the preamble to the rule, NHTSA interpreted the portion of the Adesignated seating position@ definition concerning the presumption that a bench seat with more than 50 inches of hip room shall have not less than three designated seating positions. The agency stated: Athe space occupied by a rigid console or a fixed, stationary armrest, for example, would not be considered hip room and would not be included in the measurement of the 50-inch limitation.@ (44 FR 23229, 23232)

In an April 9, 1980, letter to Renault USA (copy enclosed), the agency discussed the use of seat belt assemblies to limit the number of seating positions on a bench seat. NHTSA stated:

The agency would give more credence to this factor if the inboard portions of the belt assemblies were on stiff, immovable cables (or similar design). With the current design, a person wishing to sit in the center position can easily move the belts out of the way, so that the belts are not real impediments to the use of the center position.

Your Examples Alteration of the floor plan: You ask if altering the floor plan such that a normal seated position cannot be achieved could constitute an Aacceptable obstruction@ of a seating position. It is unclear what actions this would entail. However, in the April 1979 notice the agency stated: AThe NHTSA agrees that shoulder room, leg room, and head clearance are factors which may influence the number of persons who will use a bench or split-bench seat.@ (44 FR 23229 at 23231). Thus, in theory, alteration of the floor plan could reduce the number of designated seating positions.

Filling the seat with an empty container bolted to the frame or seat skeleton: If the design of the container was such that a person could not sit in the container on the seat, this would constitute a permanent obstruction.

Removal of the seat: This is an obvious example of a means of reducing the number of designated seating positions in a vehicle.

I hope that this information has been 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

Enclosures ref:571.3 d:4/2/96