Darby Industries, Inc.
R.R. 1, Box 311
Falls, PA 18615
Dear Mr. Darby:
This responds to your letter asking whether the small backhoe you manufacture is a motor vehicle regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As explained below, our answer is no.
Based on the promotional brochure you enclosed, the "Towable TRUCKHOE" is a "full-size backhoe" that can be towed behind a truck "without the need of a trailer." You state that the Towable TRUCKHOE is mainly used at construction sites and in cemeteries and that it has a hydraulic drive system that propels it around job sites at 2 or 3 mph.
NHTSA's regulations apply only to motor vehicles, which are defined in 49 U.S.C. 13102(A)(6) as "vehicle[s] driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways . . . ." Equipment that uses the highways solely to move between job sites and which typically spend extended periods of time at a single job site, are not considered motor vehicles. That is because the use of these vehicles on the public roadways is intermittent and merely incidental to their primary off-road use.
Based on your letter and brochure, we believe that the Towable TRUCKHOE is manufactured mainly for off-road use and that its transport on the roads (being towed from site to site) is intermittent and merely incidental to its primary purpose. Thus, the Towable TRUCKHOE is not a motor vehicle subject to our safety regulations.
Bear in mind, however, that States have the authority to regulate highway use, and some may have requirements applying to the use of the Towable TRUCKHOE. You may wish to consult State laws for information on possible operational restrictions on your product, such as State licensing and towing laws.
We also note a safety concern about another product shown in your brochure, the "TRUCKHOE." The TRUCKHOE is designed to be mounted "on any truck with a capacity of 3/4 ton or more." The dry weight of the TRUCKHOE is listed as 2,240 pounds. Mounting
the TRUCKHOE on a 3/4 ton vehicle would cause the vehicle to exceed its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), which may result in overloading the tires and other overloading problems that could degrade the vehicle's stopping distance and other aspects of performance.
Stopping distance is regulated by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 105, Hydraulic brake systems. Truck manufacturers must certify compliance with Standard No. 105 based on the vehicle being loaded to the GVWR. Therefore, if the TRUCKHOE were installed by a dealer before sale of the truck, the dealer would have to assure that the vehicle still complied with all of our standards, including Standard No. 105. Even after sale, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and motor vehicle repair businesses are subject to a statutory provision (49 U.S.C. 30122) that prohibits them from knowingly "making inoperative" any device or element of design installed in compliance with an applicable Federal safety standard. For example, we would consider outfitting the vehicle in such a way that the vehicle exceeded the stopping distance requirements of Standard No. 105 as making the brakes inoperative.
The "make inoperative" provision does not apply if the vehicle owner installs the TRUCKHOE, although we encourage owners not to degrade the performance of their vehicles. In addition, many States have laws prohibiting owners from exceeding the GVWR of their vehicles. You may want to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in any State in which the TRUCKHOE will be sold or used.
If you have any further questions about NHTSA's safety standards, please feel free to contact Mr. Paul Atelsek of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel