873 Deep Creek
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Dear Mr. Junk:
This responds to your letter of March 8, 1996, concerning a new product called "Head Rest Travelers." Your letter explained that the product "is a lycra slipcover that fits over the existing headrest in a car to change the headrest into a stuffed character." You asked if there were any regulations that apply to this product. In particular, you expressed concern that, because the product extends three to six inches from the existing headrest it could reduce visibility.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is authorized under 49 CFR Chapter 301 to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. 49 CFR Section 30112 prohibits any person from manufacturing, introducing into commerce, selling, or importing any new motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicle or equipment item is in conformity with all applicable safety standards. NHTSA, however, does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, nor do we endorse any commercial products. Instead, Federal law establishes a "self- certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards.
Your product may be affected by five safety standards: Standard No. 111, "Rearview Mirrors," Standard No. 201, "Occupant Protection in Interior Impact," Standard No. 202, "Head Restraints," Standard No. 208, "Occupant Crash Protection," and Standard No. 302, "Flammability of Interior Materials."
These five standards apply only to new vehicles, not to items of individual equipment. If your product were installed before the vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale, the installer would have to certify that the vehicle complied with all applicable standards, including these five, with the product installed. However, based on the information you provided, it appears that your product is intended to be an item of after-market equipment.
After a vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale; i.e., the first retail sale of the vehicle, the only provision in Federal law that affects a vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable safety standard is set forth in 49 U.S.C. '30122. The provision provides:
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.
Any violation of this "make inoperative" prohibition would subject the violator (a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business) to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.
The "make inoperative" prohibition does not, however, apply to modifications vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, Federal law would not apply in situations where individual vehicle owners install your product in their own vehicles, even if the installation were to result in the vehicle no longer complying with the safety standards. The agency, however, recommends that owners not make modifications to their vehicles which would degrade the safety performance of the vehicle, such as installing a product that degraded the field of view of a vehicle's mirror system.
Your letter also asks about "safety restrictions." In addition to the foregoing, your product would be considered "motor vehicle equipment" for purposes of federal law protecting the public against products which have safety defects. Therefore, if your product proved to contain a defect (either in manufacture, design, or performance) that relates to motor vehicle safety, you would be required to conduct a recall campaign to notify owners and to remedy the defect free of charge.
We also recommend that you check state regulations. Individual States have the authority to regulate modifications that individual vehicle owners may make to their own vehicles.
I have enclosed an information sheet for new manufacturers of motor vehicle equipment that briefly explains the responsibilities imposed on manufacturers, and tells how to get copies of the relevant laws and regulations.
I hope this information has been helpful. If you have other questions or need some additional information, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel ref:202 d:4/23/96