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Interpretation ID: 2625y

Mr. Vaughn Crawley
Vice President
Monitor Manufacturing Co.
1820 South Cobb Industrial Blvd.
Smyrna, GA 30080

Dear Mr. Crawley:

This responds to your letter seeking an explanation of a manufacturer's responsibilities under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq., "the Safety Act"). I apologize for the delay in this response. You were particularly concerned with van converters' certifications of compliance with Standards No. 207, Seating Systems, and No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages. You stated that, in a van conversion, the pedestal, the seat, and the safety belts may all be supplied by different manufacturers. You also stated that each of these components might be accompanied by test reports and engineering analyses showing that the component will, if properly installed, comply with the requirements of the safety standards. You asked whether the test reports and engineering analyses of each of the individual components could be combined to form the basis for certifying compliance with Standards No. 207 and 210, or whether the assembled seating system, as installed in the vehicle would have to be tested. I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our laws and regulations for you.

Each of this agency's safety standards specifies the test conditions and procedures that this agency will use to evaluate the performance of the vehicle or equipment being tested for compliance with the particular safety standard. NHTSA precisely follows each of the specified test procedures and conditions when conducting its compliance testing. However, the Safety Act does not require a manufacturer to test its products only in the manner specified in the relevant safety standard, or even to test the products at all. A manufacturer may choose any means of evaluating its products to determine whether the vehicle or item of equipment complies with the requirements of the safety standards, provided, however, that the manufacturer assures that the vehicle or equipment will comply with the safety standards when tested by the agency according to the procedures specified in the standard.

If the agency testing shows an apparent noncompliance exists with a vehicle or item of equipment, the manufacturer is asked to show the basis for its certification that the vehicle or equipment complies with the relevant safety standard or standards. If in fact there is a noncompliance, the manufacturer is subject to civil penalties under the Safety Act unless it can establish that it exercised "due care" in the design and manufacture of the product and in the checks (through actual testing, computer simulation, engineering analyses, or other means) to ensure compliance, but nevertheless did not have reason to know that the vehicle or item of equipment did not in fact comply with the safety standards.

With respect to your question about whether additional testing needs to be done by your company for the vans you manufacture or if you can simply rely on the tests done by the component manufacturers, this agency has long said that it is unable to judge what efforts would constitute "due care" in advance of the actual circumstances in which a noncompliance occurs. What constitutes "due care" in a particular case depends on all relevant facts, including such things as the limitations of current technology, the availability of test equipment, the size of the manufacturer, and, above all, the diligence exercised by the manufacturer. NHTSA would look to such things as the test results for the individual components mentioned in your letter, the installation of those components by your company, the quality control procedures used by your company, and any other relevant factors to determine whether your company had exercised due care to ensure that your vans complied with all relevant safety standards.

However, it is not clear that a manufacturer could show that it exercised "due care" based solely on the test results for the individual components mentioned in your letter. As explained above, a van converter is required to assure that its vans will comply with the safety standards when tested by the agency in accordance with the procedures specified in the standards. It would be difficult to establish that a manufacturer had exercised "due care" to satisfy its responsibilities under Standards No. 207 and 210, unless the manufacturer had some evaluation of the performance of the assembled seating systems and safety belts installed in the vehicles in question. Test results for the individual components of the seating systems may not give a van converter enough information about the seating system as a whole to make such an evaluation.

You should also note that, while the exercise of "due care" may relieve a manufacturer of liability for civil penalties in connection with the manufacture and sale of noncomplying vehicles or equipment, it does not relieve a manufacturer of the responsibility to notify purchasers of the noncompliance and remedy the noncompliance without charge to the purchasers, if either the manufacturer or this agency determines that vehicles or items of equipment do not comply with all applicable safety standards.

I hope this explanation is helpful. Please contact Mr. Kenneth Weinstein, our Assistant Chief Counsel for Litigation, at (202) 366-5263 if you have any further questions or would like some additional information on this subject.


Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel

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