Search Interpretations


Mr. J.H. Brown
Jumpin= Jac=s F.N.
P.O. Box 526146
Miami, FL 33152-6146

Dear Mr. Brown:

This responds to your March 11, 1996 letter to William Boehly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration=s (NHTSA=s) Associate Administrator for Research and Development. Your letter was referred to my office for reply.

You ask for this agency=s Aappraisal and we hope NHTSA approval@ of a product that you are seeking to develop, which you call the APT-103 Child Protector Safety Harness.@ You enclosed a brochure on the PT-103 harness in your letter. I note that you marked the word AConfidential@ on the brochure. In an April 16, 1996 telephone conversation with Deirdre Fujita of my staff, you stated that you had no objections to our placing a copy of your letter and brochure in the agency=s public docket, which is a routine part of the interpretation process.

By way of background information, NHTSA does not approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. Instead, Congress has established a "self- certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on the information set forth in your letter.

According to the brochure, the PT-103 consists of a vest that would cover the child=s chest, a foam vest- like garment for the child=s neck (which looks like a Alife preserver@ used on

water), and a series of padded straps that would form a type of headgear for the child=s head. The brochure implies in several places that children are better protected using the PT-103 harness and a vehicle=s lap and shoulder belt than with the lap and shoulder belt alone.

In the telephone conversation with Ms. Fujita, you clarified an important point about your product. You explained that the PT-103 is not attached in any manner to the vehicle=s belt system, and is not intended to replace the vehicle belt system as the means of restraining the child. Instead, the PT-103 is simply a garment consisting of a padded vest, neckware and headgear, intended for a child restrained in the vehicle=s seat belts or in a child seat. The idea is for the child to be wearing a protective garment in the event of a crash.

NHTSA has the authority to regulate the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Our statute (49 U.S.C. Chapter 301) defines "motor vehicle equipment," in part, as ('30102(a)(7)):

(A) any system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured; [or] (B) any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement of a system, part, or component, or as any accessory, or addition to the motor vehicle ...

Your vest harness is plainly not a "system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured," nor is it a "similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement" of an original equipment part of a motor vehicle. The issue is whether the vest harness would be an "accessory" within the meaning of the statute. In determining whether an item of equipment is considered an accessory, NHTSA applies two criteria. First is whether a substantial portion of the expected uses of the product are related to the operation or maintenance of motor vehicles. Second is whether the product is purchased or otherwise acquired, and principally used, by ordinary users of motor vehicles.

With regard to the first criterion, the product literature enclosed with your product emphasizes that the vest harness is meant to be used in motor vehicles. While you indicated that the PT-103 can also be used in boats and for contact sports, you informed Ms. Fujita that its major use will be in automobiles. Given this information, a substantial portion of the expected uses of the vest harness would be related to the operation or maintenance of motor vehicles, so the vest harness is considered an item of "motor vehicle equipment." This means that your product is subject to NHTSA=s authority.

There currently are no Federal motor vehicle safety standards that directly apply to the PT-103. Our standard for "child restraint systems," Standard 213, applies to "any device except Type I or Type II seat belts, designed for use in a motor vehicle or aircraft to restrain, seat, or position children who weigh 50 pounds or less." The standard does not apply to accessory items, such as a padded garment that can be used with a child safety seat or with the vehicle=s belt system.

While no standard applies to the PT-103, under our statute all items of motor vehicle equipment must not contain any safety-related defects. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements of 49 U.S.C. ''30118-30121 concerning the recall and remedy of products with safety-related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those and other manufacturer responsibilities. In the event you or NHTSA determines that your product contains a safety-related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.

I would like to note a few concerns about the brochure you enclosed on the PT-103. It describes the PT-103 as being available in a size that is suitable for use with children weighing 15 to 25 pounds (lb). This description implies that the harness is suitable for use by infants and small children, and that these children can be restrained using a vehicle=s lap and shoulder belt system. That practice may not be best for the child.

NHTSA believes, based on studies, that children should be restrained in rear-facing child seats until they are at least 12 months old (22 lb), and should not be placed in a restraint system that faces the child forward. A rear-facing child seat is needed so that, in a crash, the forces are spread evenly across the infant's back and shoulders, the strongest part of the child's body. Similarly, we believe small children should use a child restraint system until they outgrow their child seat. To avoid possibly misleading consumers into moving their children into a vehicle belt system before the child is developed enough for it, the PT-103 should be recommended only for older children.

Another concern relates to the fact that the harnesses in a child seat works best when used snugly with minimal padding or heavy clothing between the child and the safety seat. Similarly, a safety belt system works best with minimum slack. Excessive padding can compress in crash, introducing too much slack in the belt system that can cause the child occupant to be fully or partially ejected in a crash. A vest system that consisted of too much padding may have that negative effect.

Another concern relates to the possibility that some consumers may think your device is supposed to replace a child seat or vehicle seat belt system as the means of restraining a child in a crash. We suggest you prominently label the device as not being intended for use as a child restraint system, and clearly instruct consumers of this in advertising and other literature included with the PT-103. Further, you refer to the device as a Asafety harness.@ The term Aharness@ has long been used in the child passenger safety community to refer to a type of child restraint system. We are concerned that calling your device a Asafety harness@ could possibly confuse consumers about its suitability as a child restraint system, which may result in some consumers attaching the PT-103 to the vehicle with the vehicle=s belts, as they would with other harnesses (which are Achild restraints@). With that possibility in mind, we suggest you avoid using the term "safety harness@ in naming the PT-103.

Finally, we also note the photograph on page five of the brochure, showing children restrained in vehicle lap and shoulder belts A(Without PT-103),@ apparently is intended to show Abefore@ and Aafter@ shots of what happens in a crash without your device, to illustrate a need for the PT-103. The Aafter@ shot shows the childrens= heads between their knees, apparently to depict that in a crash situation a child would have no upper torso restraint whatsoever. We wish to point out that this is probably misleading, because the shoulder portion of a lap and shoulder belt would provide restraint in the type of emergency situation presumably depicted in the photograph. Thus, the situation shown in the Aafter@ shot is not realistic.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions, please call Ms. Fujita at (202) 366-2992.


Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel

Enclosure ref:213 d:5/10/96