William A. Leasure, Jr.
Truck Manufacturers Association
1225 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005
Dear Mr. Leasure:
This responds to your letter regarding Standard No. 208's labeling and owner's manual requirements for air bag-equipped vehicles. You ask whether the requirements apply to medium and heavy trucks equipped with air bags, and suggest that we adopt an interpretation that the requirements do not apply to these vehicles. We do not interpret the standard as you suggest.
Standard No. 208's air bag labeling and owner's manual requirements are set forth in S4.5.1. While many of the standard's requirements, including those mandating air bags, are expressly limited to vehicles with specified gross vehicle weight ratings, S4.5.1 does not contain any such limitation.
You suggest that the air bag labeling and owner's manual requirements should, nonetheless, be interpreted as not applying to medium and heavy trucks equipped with air bags, because these vehicles are not required to have air bags. You note several facts in support of this argument:
The focus of NHTSA with regard to passive occupant protection has been, and continues to be, light passenger vehicles and not medium and heavy-duty trucks.
While Standard No. 208 applies to passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses, the standard permits trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds the option of only having a Type 1 or Type 2 belt system. (Your letter indicates that all medium and heavy-duty truck manufacturers install Type 2 seat belts as standard equipment.)
In NHTSA's November 1996 final rule specifying installation of new, attention getting labels, it cited compliance dates only for passenger cars, light trucks and vans. Moreover, the focus of the agency in this rulemaking was the protection of children. Medium and heavy-duty trucks are utilized for commercial purposes and therefore often only have provisions for a driver's seat. In cases where there is a passenger seat, it is rarely occupied and even more rarely occupied by children. Currently, no medium or heavy-duty truck manufacturer offers a passenger-side air bag.
You also stated that TMA believes it would be more appropriate for the agency to allow the original warning label specified by Standard No. 208, rather than the new ones, to be used voluntarily in medium and heavy-duty trucks
While we do not disagree that our rulemakings regarding labeling and owner's manual requirements for vehicles equipped with air bags have focused on light vehicles, we nonetheless conclude that the requirements also apply to medium and heavy trucks equipped with air bags. There are several reasons for this conclusion.
First, the standard does not limit the applicability of these requirements to light vehicles or to vehicles required to have air bags. Second, the safety concerns addressed by these requirements apply to all vehicles equipped with air bags and not merely light vehicles. For example, the warning to sit as far back as possible from the air bag and to always use seat belts is relevant to heavy vehicles as well as light vehicles equipped with air bags. I note that manufacturers of vehicles without passenger-side air bags are permitted to omit language concerning the hazards to children from air bags. See Final rule, correcting amendment published in the Federal Register (61 FR 64297) on December 4, 1996. Finally, we believe that, to the extent it might be appropriate to specify different labeling or owner's manual requirements for medium or heavy vehicles than for light vehicles, the issues would most appropriately be addressed in rulemaking.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Edward Glancy of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel