Mr. Eric Goldwasser
993 Barbery Rd.
Yorktown, NY 10598
Dear Mr. Goldwasser:
This responds to your letter requesting a waiver that would permit you to have your 1996 car modified in two ways. You would like to add a bar to the outside of the driver's door to protect you in a side impact from a light truck whose bumper is higher than the existing beams. You would also like to add a second bumper to the front of the car "so that in a front-end collision there will be more distance between [you] and the first thing to make contact with whatever the car is colliding with."
It might be helpful to begin with some background information. All new vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States must be certified by their manufacturer as complying with this agency's Federal motor vehicle safety standards, including the standards for side impact protection (Standard 214), and occupant protection (Standard 208). If a vehicle were modified prior to its first retail sale, the manufacturer or dealer would have had to certify that the vehicle, as altered, continued to comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards.
After a vehicle is sold at retail, Federal law limits the modifications made to it by manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses. These entities are prohibited under our statute from "knowingly making inoperative" any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable safety standard (49 U.S.C. 30122). In general, the "make inoperative" prohibition would require a business which modifies motor vehicles to ensure that they do not remove, disconnect, or degrade the performance of safety equipment installed in compliance with an applicable safety standard. Violations of this prohibition are punishable by civil penalties of up to $1,100 per violation.
A commercial business of the type specified in 30122 would be prohibited from adding the side door bar to your vehicle if installation of the bar would make inoperative the features of the door that enable the vehicle to meet Standard 214's side impact protection requirements. It is possible that installation of the bar could affect how crash forces are directed towards the occupant compartment. For example, a bar that is mounted above the existing side door beams could in some crashes result in more injurious forces directed at the occupant. Similarly, depending on where and how the second bumper is mounted, its installation could affect the compliance of a vehicle with Standard 208's automatic crash protection requirements. For example, the added bumper could affect the ability of an air bag to deploy as originally designed and provide the necessary crash protection. The "make inoperative" provision would prohibit a commercial business from installing the bumper in a manner that would negatively affect the vehicle's compliance with Standard 208.
You indicate that the manufacturer of your vehicle has been unwilling to modify the vehicle in the manner you seek. I note that your modifications raise complex engineering issues concerning the crash performance of the vehicle and its continued compliance with the safety standards. NHTSA has no provision to grant waivers from the "make inoperative" requirement for manufacturers and repair businesses for the modifications you have in mind.
Finally, I note that state laws may cover the installation of additional bumpers and side door bars on motor vehicles. You should contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state for information about such laws.
I hope that this is information is helpful. If you have any questions, please contact Deirdre Fujita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel