J.F. Brownholtz, Ph.D.
Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences
University of Miami
School of Education
P.O. Box 248065
Coral Gables, FL 33124-2040
Dear Dr. Brownholtz:
This responds to your letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in which you request that NHTSA test and endorse your product. You have developed an aftermarket supplemental head restraint, the "Neck Saver," which is designed to be installed on existing head restraints in automobiles and other vehicles.
By way of background information, Chapter 301 of Title 49, U.S. Code gives this agency the authority to issue safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Chapter 301 provides that no person shall "manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, or introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce, or import into the United States" any new motor vehicle or new item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicles or equipment comply with the applicable standard. (See 49 U.S.C. 30112.) NHTSA has no authority under Chapter 301 to approve, certify, or otherwise endorse any commercial product. Instead, Chapter 301 establishes a self-certification process under which each manufacturer is required to certify that each of its products meets all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Moreover, NHTSA does not endorse any products.
There is currently no Federal motor vehicle safety standard that is directly applicable to the product you wish to manufacture and sell. Our standard for head restraints (Standard No. 202) applies only to new passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or less.
However, there are other Federal requirements that indirectly affect your manufacture and sale of the "Neck Saver." Under Chapter 301, your device is considered to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements in sections 30118-30120 of Chapter 301 concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects relating to motor vehicle safety. In the event that you or NHTSA determines that the "Neck Saver" contains a safety related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
It appears that the "Neck Saver" would be installed by the vehicle owner. However, if it were to be professionally installed, Section 30122 of Title 49, U.S. Code provides that a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment in accordance with a safety standard. For example, a commercial entity must ensure that the addition of the device does not degrade from the safety provided by flammable-resistant materials in the vehicle's interior compartment which have been installed in accordance with Standard No. 302. Installation of rapidly burning materials could vitiate the compliance of the materials which were present in the vehicle at the time of its sale to the first consumer and were certified as meeting FMVSS No. 302. Similarly, a commercial entity must ensure that installation of the device does not affect compliance with Standard No. 202.
However, the prohibitions of Section 30122 do not apply to the actions of a vehicle owner in adding to or otherwise modifying his or her vehicle. Thus, a vehicle owner would not violate Chapter 301 by installing the head restraint, even if doing so would negatively affect some safety feature in his or her vehicle.
NHTSA is currently studying the possibility of proposing changes to Standard No. 202. I am enclosing a copy of a December 19, 1996 request for comments (61 FR 66992) in which the agency requested interested parties to submit their views on a NHTSA Technical Report titled, "Head Restraints-Identification of Issues Relevant to Regulation, Design, and Effectiveness." While the comment period outlined in this notice has closed, I am providing a copy of the report in light of your interest in this subject.
We are also returning herewith the samples of the "Neck Saver" you enclosed with your letter.
Please feel free to contact Otto Matheke of my staff at (202) 366-5253 if you have further questions.
Acting Chief Counsel