6920 S.W. 44th Street, Suite 210
Miami, FL 33155
Dear Mr. Zimelman:
This responds to your letter asking whether your invention would "pose a problem" with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213, Child Restraint Systems. You met with our technical staff, including Mr. Jerome Kossar, Mr. George Mouchahoir, and Ms. Lori Summers, to discuss your invention, which is a retractable shield placed over safety seats for children up to 20 pounds. You state that the retractable shield "would be far enough away from the child's head that the child would not pitch forward enough to come in contact with it." You further state that the shield's material is a tough, flexible plastic that is transparent and has holes for breathing.
I note that you marked "confidential" on your letter. In a November 4, 1996, telephone conversation with Mr. Marvin Shaw of my staff, you stated that as long as the diagrams remain confidential, you had no objection to our placing your letter in the public docket.
By way of background information, this agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has the authority to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not, however, approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. The following represents our opinion based on the information in your letter.
There is currently no FMVSS that directly applies to your product. Our standard for "child restraint systems," FMVSS No. 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." (S4 of FMVSS No. 213) The standard does not apply to child seat accessories that are sold separately from the child seats, such as an aftermarket retractable shield.
While no Federal safety standard applies to the retractable shield, your product is considered to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements of 49 United States Code 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 that 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.
In addition, a motor vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer or repair business is prohibited by our statute from installing the retractable shield if the installation "makes inoperative" compliance with any safety standard, such as FMVSS No. 213.
You should be aware that some elements of design incorporated in child restraint systems in compliance with FMVSS No. 213 might be affected by adding your retractable shield. In particular, under section S5.7, all child restraint systems are required to incorporate the flammability resistance requirements of S4 of FMVSS No. 302. Also, child restraint systems recommended for use by children weighing less than 20 pounds must comply with paragraph S188.8.131.52 of FMVSS No. 213. That paragraph requires that each child restraint surface contactable by the child dummy's head during the crash test shall be covered with slow recovery energy absorbing materials with specified characteristics. This requirement ensures that children riding in these child restraints will not suffer unnecessary head injuries during crashes. If the installation of your retractable shield by a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business would impair features provided in compliance with these or other provisions of the standard, then the entities would make inoperative a Federally required element of design in violation of the statute.
The "make inoperative" prohibition does not apply to individual owners who install equipment on their own child restraints systems. Thus, individual owners may install any item of motor vehicle equipment regardless of its effect on compliance with Federal motor vehicle safety standards. However, NHTSA encourages owners not to degrade the safety of their child restraints.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact Marvin Shaw of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel