John L. Oberdorfer, Esq.
Eric A. Kuwana, Esq.
Patton Boggs, L.L.P.
2550 M Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037-1350
Dear Mr. Oberdorfer and Mr. Kuwana:
This responds to your August 22, 1997, inquiry about whether the R-Series Rough Terrain Lift Trucks (lift trucks) manufactured by your client, Eagle-Picher Industries, are motor vehicles that would have to comply with the applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. You state that the lift trucks are designed and manufactured to lift heavy loads on rough terrain at off-road sites and are used at industrial and construction locations for that purpose. You also state that the lift trucks operate on public roads in exceptional circumstances only and are generally towed or carried on a flat bed truck when moved over public highways. On the basis of the information you provided, it appears that the lift trucks are not motor vehicles.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) interprets and enforces the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. NHTSA's statute defines the term "motor vehicle" as follows:
[A] vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line. 49 USC 30102(a)(6).
Whether NHTSA considers the lift trucks to be motor vehicles depends on their use. In the past, we have concluded that this statutory definition does not encompass mobile construction equipment, such as cranes and scrapers, which use the highway only to move between job sites and which typically spend extended periods of time at a single job site. In such cases, the on-road use of the equipment is merely incidental and is not the primary purpose for which they were manufactured. Other construction vehicles, such as dump trucks, frequently use the highway going to and from job sites, and stay at a job site for only a limited time. Such vehicles are considered motor vehicles, since the on-highway use is more than "incidental."
Based on the information you provided, it appears that the lift trucks are not "motor vehicles" within the meaning of the statutory definition. This conclusion is based on the statements in your letter and the enclosed brochure that the lift trucks spend extended periods of time at construction or work sites and use the public roads in rare circumstances only, such as crossing a public road to reach an off-road area. It is also based on your statement that the lift trucks are generally towed or loaded onto a trailer or flat bed truck when moved between job sites. Thus, the agency would consider the use of the lift trucks on the public roads to be merely incidental. Since these types of lift trucks are not motor vehicles, they would not be subject to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards.
If NHTSA were to receive additional information indicating that the lift trucks use the public roads on more than an incidental basis, the agency would reassess this interpretation. If the lift trucks were found to be motor vehicles, Eagle-Picher Industries would be a motor vehicle manufacturer, and would be required to submit identification information to this agency in accordance with 49 CFR Part 566, Manufacturer Identification. Eagle-Picher would also be required to certify that each vehicle complies with all applicable Federal safety standards. This certification procedure is set out in 49 CFR Part 567.
Please note that some states may require an off-road vehicle to be registered. Thus, you may wish to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in any state in which Eagle-Picher's products will be sold or operated about requirements for the use of the lift trucks.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions regarding NHTSA's safety standards, please contact Nicole Fradette of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel