Norman Jolly, Esq.
1018 Preston
Suite 450

Houston, TX 77002

Dear Mr. Jolly:

This is in response to your "petition" of September 17, 1997, requesting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) award money damages to Texans owning a Toyota, Nissan, or Honda passenger car or light truck equipped with a passive seat belt system and a separate lap belt. You believe that the manufacturers failed to properly warn motorists to use the manual lap belt with the shoulder belt.

This agency cannot provide the relief sought by your petition. NHTSA's authority to entertain petitions and provide specified forms of relief when such petitions are granted is found in section 30162 of Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C. 30162). This section provides, in pertinent part, the authority granted by Congress in these matters:

(a) Filing. Any interested person may file a petition with the Secretary of Transportation requesting the Secretary to begin a proceeding--

(1) to prescribe a motor vehicle safety standard under this chapter; or

(2) to decide whether to issue an order under section 30118(b) of this title.

Section 30118(b)(1) authorizes NHTSA to make a final decision that a vehicle contains a safety related defect or fails to comply with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard. If such a final decision is made and it has been determined that a vehicle does not comply with a standard or contains a safety related defect, section 30118(b)(2) requires NHTSA to order the manufacturer of the vehicle to notify owners, purchaser, and dealers of the defect or noncompliance and to provide a remedy under section 30120. Section 30120(a) prescribes the forms that such a remedy may take:

(a) Ways to remedy.

(1) Subject to subsections (f) and (g) of this section, when notification of a defect or noncompliance is required under section 30118(b) or (c) of this title, the manufacturer of the defective or noncomplying motor vehicle or replacement equipment shall remedy the defect or noncompliance without charge when the vehicle or equipment is presented for remedy. Subject to subsections (b) and (c) of this section, the manufacturer shall remedy the defect or noncompliance in any of the following ways the manufacturer chooses:

(A) if a vehicle--

(i) by repairing the vehicle;

(ii) by replacing the vehicle with an identical or reasonably equivalent vehicle; or

(iii) by refunding the purchase price, less a reasonable allowance for depreciation.

(Emphasis added.)

NHTSA may require a manufacturer to provide notification and a remedy in the event that a vehicle contains a defect or does not comply with applicable standards. However, even if NHTSA were to determine that a defect existed, the manufacturer would still be able to select the remedy and cannot be ordered to provide a cash payment to an owner. If a manufacturer attempts to repair the vehicle and does not do so within a reasonable time, section 30120(c) requires that the manufacturer replace the vehicle or refund the purchase price, less an allowance for depreciation. Even in this circumstance, where the manufacturer has elected to repair the vehicle and has not done so, the manufacturer can still replace the vehicle rather than providing a cash payment to the owner.

As noted above, your petition seeks relief that the agency does not have the authority to grant. NHTSA is therefore rejecting your petition.

John Womack
Acting Chief Counsel