3718 Livingston Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20015
Dear Mr. Gordon:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of how The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSA's) laws apply to a device you wish to manufacture. In a March 12, 1997 letter from Heidi Coleman, NHTSA's Assistant Chief Counsel for General Law, your letter to NHTSA was granted confidential treatment of all information, except for the device's description as a "speed limiting device for passenger automobiles and light trucks." A discussion of our standards follows below.
By way of background, NHTSA is authorized to issue safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. This agency does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable standards. Also, it is unlawful for dealers to sell motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment that do not meet applicable standards.
Vehicle manufacturers wishing to install your device would be required to certify that their vehicles meet all applicable safety standards with the device installed. While we do not have sufficient information to identify all the standards that might be relevant to your device, I would like to bring two standards to your attention.
Among the safety standards your device may affect are those for accelerator control systems (Standard No. 124, Accelerator control systems), and braking (Standard No. 135, Passenger car brake systems), (The safety standards are found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 571.) Standard No. 124 establishes requirements for the return of a vehicle's throttle to the idle position when the driver removes the actuating force from the accelerator control, or in the event of a severance or disconnection in the accelerator control system. Standard No. 135 specifies requirements for service brake and associated parking brake systems. While these standards do not preclude the installation of your device on a new vehicle, any vehicle with your device must meet the requirements of these and all other applicable safety standards.
No standard would apply to your device to the extent that it is sold as aftermarket equipment. However, Federal law prohibits a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business from "making inoperative" a vehicle's compliance with any safety standard. Therefore, your device could not be installed by such businesses if the installation adversely affected a vehicle's compliance with any safety standard.
The "make inoperative" provision does not apply to modifications made by owners to their own vehicles. However, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles. Also, individual states have authority to regulate modifications that a vehicle owner may make to his or her vehicle. We are not able to provide you with information on state laws. You may wish to seek an opinion from the Department of Motor Vehicles in any state in which the device will be sold or used.
Finally, your device is considered to be "motor vehicle equipment" under Federal law. This means that the manufacturer of the device would be subject to Title 49 of the U.S. Code, sections 30118-30122, concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety. If the manufacturer or NHTSA determined that the product contains a safety related defect, the manufacturer would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge. (This responsibility is borne by the vehicle manufacturer in cases in which your device is installed on a new vehicle by the vehicle manufacturer.)
I hope this information is helpful. I am enclosing a general information sheet for new manufacturers which summarizes NHTSA's regulations and explains where to obtain copies of Federal motor vehicle safety standards and other regulations. If you have any more questions about these issues, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel