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Interpretation ID: 2626y

Mr. David J. Blackwell
Operations Manager
Liquidus Limited
37A Shorncliffe Road
Toronto, Ontario
48Z 5K2, Canada

Dear Mr. Blackwell:

This is in response to your letter asking whether a certain vehicle that you plan to export to the United States would be subject to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. You state that Liquidus has "designed a system" by customizing an existing road tanker for "overhead" loading. The vehicle you plan to export would be used for "aircraft de-icing storage" and "loading of aircraft de-icing tarmac vehicles while in a fixed location." The road tanker used in your system was originally built in Canada by a firm that has since gone out of business. I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our statute and regulations to you.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq.; the Safety Act) authorizes this agency to issue safety standards for new "motor vehicles" and new items of "motor vehicle equipment." Accordingly, your vehicle is subject to the safety standards only if it is considered within the definition of "motor vehicle" under the Safety Act. Section 102(3) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1391(3)) defines a "motor vehicle" as

any vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, except any vehicle operated exclusively on a rail or rails.

We have interpreted this language as follows. Vehicles that are equipped with tracks or are otherwise incapable of highway travel are plainly not motor vehicles. Tractors and other agricultural equipment are also not motor vehicles. Further, vehicles designed and sold solely for off-road use (e.g., certain airport runway vehicles and underground mining vehicles) are not considered motor vehicles, even though they may be operationally capable of highway travel. In addition, items of mobile construction equipment which use the highways only to move between job sites and which typically spend extended periods of time at a single job site are not considered motor vehicles.

On the other hand, vehicles that use the public roads on a necessary and recurring basis are motor vehicles. For instance, utility vehicles like the Jeep are plainly motor vehicles, even though they are equipped with special features to permit off-road operation. If a vehicle's greatest use will be off-road, but it will spend a substantial amount of time on-road, NHTSA has treated it as a motor vehicle. Further, if a vehicle is readily usable on the public roads and is in fact used on the public roads by a substantial number of owners, NHTSA has treated the vehicle as a motor vehicle. This finding was made with respect to dune buggies, notwithstanding the manufacturers' statements that the vehicles were not intended to be used on the public roads.

NHTSA has also stated in many prior interpretations that even vehicles that will regularly be used on the public roads will not be considered motor vehicles for the purposes of the Safety Act, if the vehicles have a maximum attainable speed of 20 miles per hour (mph) or less and have an abnormal configuration that readily distinguishes them from other vehicles on the road.

We would apply these principles to the vehicle identified in your letter as follows. Your letter stated that this vehicle will be immobilized after it reaches the airport. Assuming this immobilization occurs, this vehicle would appear to be designed and sold solely for off-road use, just like certain other airport runway vehicles. In this case, it would not be a motor vehicle, even though it is operationally capable of highway travel before the immobilization.

However, if the vehicle were not subsequently immobilized, and were moved from airport to airport with only a limited stay at any job site, this vehicle might be considered a "motor vehicle." This conclusion would be even more likely if a significant percentage of the vehicle's purchasers were to use the vehicle by moving it from airport to airport, notwithstanding your company's intent that the vehicles not be so used. This situation would be analogous to the classification of dune buggies.

I hope that this information is helpful. If you have any additional questions, please contact John Rigby of this office by mail at the above address or by telephone at 202-366-2992.


Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel /ref:VSA d:8/20/90