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Interpretation ID: 2619y

Mr. Michael O'Donnell
P.O. Box 127
Skaneateles, NY 13152

Dear Mr. O'Donnell:

This is in response to your letter to this office asking whether NHTSA's safety standards apply to vehicles in service on the public roads. Specifically, you were interested in the applicability of NHTSA requirements to a 1977 school bus that was converted to a "recreational vehicle/house coach" that is now only for personal and family use.

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) promulgated by this agency apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. The requirement that a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment comply with all applicable FMVSS applies only until the product is first sold to a consumer. Both before and after a vehicle or item of equipment is first sold to a consumer, any modifications to that product are affected by section 108(a)(2)(A) of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)(A), which states:

No manufacturer, distributor, dealer or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly render inoperative, in whole or in part, any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard . . . .

If any of the commercial entities identified in section 108(a)(2)(A) were to make modifications that resulted in a "render inoperative" violation, the violating commercial entity would be liable for a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. Please note that this "render inoperative" provision does not apply to a vehicle owner. The vehicle owner may modify his or her vehicle without violating any Federal requirements, irrespective of whether the modification affects the vehicle's compliance with a safety standard.

Please note also that the individual States have the authority to regulate the operation and use of motor vehicles within their borders. Additionally, the individual States have the authority to regulate the modifications that may be made to a vehicle by its owner. You may wish to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for the State of New York to learn if the State has established any requirements applicable to your use or registration of this vehicle in New York.

I hope you have found this information helpful.


Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel /ref: VSA d:7/l8/90