Mr. Charles Jandecka
4481 Dover Center Road
North Olmsted, Ohio 44070
Dear Mr. Jandecka:
I apologize for the delay in responding to your letter requesting a reevaluation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205, Glazing Materials (49 CFR 571.205), as it relates to tinting of windows. Specifically, you expressed concern about the increase in the number of vehicles with dark-tinted windows.
As you know, Standard No. 205 requires vehicle windows that are "requisite for driving visibility" to meet a 70 percent light transmittance requirement. Darker windows are currently allowed in the rear and rear side windows on trucks, buses, and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) because the agency has issued an interpretation stating that these windows are not requisite for driving visibility.
You would like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to prohibit dark-tinted windows in light trucks, MPVs, and vans. You disagree with the conclusion of the agency's interpretation that these windows are not requisite for driving visibility. In addition, you argue that sport utility vehicles and vans should not be relieved of the light transmittance requirement by the interpretation because they do not meet the definition of an MPV. An MPV is ". . . constructed either on a truck chassis or with special features for occasional off-road operation." 49 CFR 571.3.
I will first address your argument regarding classification of vehicles. In contending that these vehicles are not MPVs, you argued that sport utility vehicles were not "off-road vehicles," which you found defined in Executive Order No. 11644 and 16 USC 670. We note that these authorities are not relevant to our regulations. But more importantly, this argument fails to recognize the distinction between a "vehicle with features for occasional off-road operation," and a more capable "off-road vehicle." The definition for off-road vehicles, such as the Humvee, is not relevant to whether vans and sport utility vehicles are MPVs.
Sport utility vehicles clearly meet the MPV definition. They have "special features for occasional off-road operation" such as four-wheel drive, large all purpose tires, large suspension excursions, and high ground clearances. The fact that they offer interior amenities and are often not driven off-road by their owners does not nullify these special features. The classifications are based on design, because ultimate use is something the manufacturer generally does not know. The presence of some of these features on vehicles certified as passenger cars also does not nullify their presence on sport utility vehicles.
Some vans and minivans meet the definition of trucks. Most cargo vans are classified as "trucks" under our safety standards. A truck is defined in 49 CFR 571.3 as being ". . . designed primarily for the transportation of property or special purpose equipment." Many full-size vans are designed on a chassis that may be fitted with any number of body types and is designed and used primarily for carrying cargo.
Most passenger vans and minivans are classified as "multipurpose passenger vehicles," because they are considered by their manufacturers to be "constructed on a truck chassis." Some manufacturers may classify them as MPVs because of heavier running gear, front suspensions, and rear leaf springs, for greater load-carrying capacity. In addition, the rear seats are often removable for carrying large cargo rather than passengers, supporting a colloquial definition of "multi-purpose" vehicles.
Generally speaking, designation of the vehicle type is up to the manufacturer. The definitions of trucks and MPVs overlap somewhat. NHTSA's main concern is that all vehicles meet the standards applicable to the type of vehicle as which they are certified. The agency is aware that in recent years changes in the construction of minivans and sport utility vehicles have tended to blur the line between these vehicles and passenger cars. There has been a convergence in the safety standards applicable to these vehicles and the standards applicable to passenger cars. NHTSA has not tried to create a complex distinction between these vehicle types, but has instead allowed the industry to produce innovative designs that meet the demands of the marketplace.
Moreover, the manufacturers have for many years continued classifying vans and minivans as light trucks for the purpose of complying with the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements. The vehicle classification requirements in 49 CFR 523.5(a)(5) allow manufacturers to properly classify vans and minivans with removable seats as light trucks for that purpose. It is doubtful the industry could comply with the CAFE standards if NHTSA suddenly restricted classification capabilities. Therefore, given the industry's longstanding reliance on NHTSA's interpretation and regulation in this area, this office cannot make a such a drastic change in the context of an interpretation letter.
Turning now to your question of whether the rear and rear side windows of sport utility vehicles and vans should be considered "requisite for driving visibility," we continue to believe that they should not be. You correctly identified a change in the agency's opinion between the July 16, 1973 interpretation of Richard Dyson and the April 4, 1985 interpretation of Jeffrey Miller, which first announced the conclusion that these windows were not requisite for driving visibility. However, you are incorrect to conclude that either the January 9, 1990 interpretation by Stephen Wood, or any of the subsequent interpretations you cited represent a change in the agency's position on the matter. Mr. Miller's interpretation still represents the agency's position.
The reasoning behind the Miller interpretation is that these vehicles are often sold in configurations without windows or with small windows to the rear of the driver (e.g., a panel van). Even if the windows to the rear of the driver are large enough, these vehicles may frequently carry loads that block the view out of them. Logically, it is impossible to argue that these windows are requisite for driving visibility when they do not even exist on the next van on the lot. In addition, most minivans and sport utility vehicles today, (even those with larger side windows and without a vision-blocking load) have rear side windows that are too high to rely on for lane changes. Vehicle manufacturers provide right-side rear view mirrors on these vehicles which assist in lane changes.
If these windows were requisite for driving visibility, one might expect that vehicle types with darker glass in those locations would be more involved in crashes, but the data do not show this to be true. Some analyses have shown that they are generally less involved in crashes than passenger cars, and that they are even under-involved in lane change crashes. This indicates that the existing window and mirror systems are meeting the minimum needs for driving visibility.
On January 22, 1992, NHTSA proposed, among other things, transmittance requirements for the windows to the rear of the driver in these vehicles. The proposed requirements would permit windows darker than those in passenger cars, but would require these windows to be lighter than the "privacy glass" currently being sold on some minivans and sport utility vehicles. Comments on the proposal were overwhelmingly negative. The law enforcement community was divided on the issue. Final action on this rulemaking is anticipated soon.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Paul Atelsek of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel