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NHTSA Interpretation File Search


NHTSA's Chief Counsel interprets the statutes that the agency administers and the standards and regulations that it issues. Members of the public may submit requests for interpretation, and the Chief Counsel will respond with a letter of interpretation. These interpretation letters look at the particular facts presented in the question and explain the agency’s opinion on how the law applies given those facts. These letters of interpretation are guidance documents. They do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. They are intended only to provide information to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies. 

Understanding NHTSA’s Online Interpretation Files

NHTSA makes its letters of interpretation available to the public on this webpage. 

An interpretation letter represents the opinion of the Chief Counsel based on the facts of individual cases at the time the letter was written. While these letters may be helpful in determining how the agency might answer a question that another person has if that question is similar to a previously considered question, do not assume that a prior interpretation will necessarily apply to your situation.

  • Your facts may be sufficiently different from those presented in prior interpretations, such that the agency's answer to you might be different from the answer in the prior interpretation letter;
  • Your situation may be completely new to the agency and not addressed in an existing interpretation letter;
  • The agency's safety standards or regulations may have changed since the prior interpretation letter was written so that the agency's prior interpretation no longer applies; or
  • Some combination of the above, or other, factors.

Searching NHTSA’s Online Interpretation Files

Before beginning a search, it’s important to understand how this online search works. Below we provide some examples of searches you can run. In some cases, the search results may include words similar to what you searched because it utilizes a fuzzy search algorithm.

Single word search

 Example: car
 Result: Any document containing that word.

Multiple word search

 Example: car seat requirements
 Result: Any document containing any of these words.

Connector word search

 Example: car AND seat AND requirements
 Result: Any document containing all of these words.

 Note: Search operators such as AND or OR must be in all capital letters.

Phrase in double quotes

 Example: "headlamp function"
 Result: Any document with that phrase.

Conjunctive search

Example: functionally AND minima
Result: Any document with both of those words.


Example: headl*
Result: Any document with a word beginning with those letters (e.g., headlamp, headlight, headlamps).

Example: no*compl*
Result: Any document beginning with the letters “no” followed by the letters “compl” (e.g., noncompliance, non-complying).


Example: headlamp NOT crash
Result: Any document containing the word “headlamp” and not the word “crash.”

Complex searches

You can combine search operators to write more targeted searches.

Note: The database does not currently support phrase searches with wildcards (e.g., “make* inoperative”). 

Example: Headl* AND (supplement* OR auxiliary OR impair*)
Result: Any document containing words that are variants of “headlamp” (headlamp, headlights, etc.) and also containing a variant of “supplement” (supplement, supplemental, etc.) or “impair” (impair, impairment, etc.) or the word “auxiliary.”

Search Tool

NHTSA's Interpretation Files Search

Displaying 11 - 20 of 16504
Interpretations Date

ID: 2454y


Mr. Keith D. Kroll
Vice President, Engineering
Hehr International, Inc.
3333 Casitas Ave
P.O. Box 39160
Los Angeles, CA 90039-0160

Dear Mr. Kroll:

This is in response to your request for an interpretation of S5.5.1 and S5.5.2 of Standard No. 217; Bus Window Retention and Release (49 CFR 571.217). More specifically, I understand your request to refer to buses that are not school buses and that have a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds. For such buses, S5.5.1 of Standard No. 217 provides that: "... each emergency door shall have the designation 'Emergency Door' or 'Emergency Exit' ... followed by concise operating instructions describing each motion necessary to unlatch and open the exit, located within 6 inches of the release mechanism." S5.5.2 requires that emergency exit "markings" be visible to occupants in specified locations, under lighting and occupant visual acuity conditions set forth in S5.5.2.

You suggested that S5.5.1 requires only the operating instructions, and not the emergency exit designation, to be located within 6 inches of the release mechanism. Similarly, you suggested that the legibility requirements applicable to emergency exit "markings" per S5.5.2 refer only to the emergency exit designation, and not to the operating instructions for that emergency exit.

We disagree with your suggested interpretation. I have recently discussed NHTSA's official interpretation of these provisions in Standard No. 217 in a January 26, 1990 letter to Mr. John G. Sims. A copy of that letter is enclosed for your information.

Please contact David Greenburg of this office at (202) 366-2992 if you have any further questions or would like some additional information concerning this subject.


Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosure ref:2l7 d:5/l8/90


ID: 2455y


Mr. David R. Martin
#113730 EA-118B
Tomoka Correctional Institution
3950 Tiger Bay Road
Daytona Beach, FL 32124

Dear Mr. Martin:

This responds to your letter to this agency's Public Affairs Office asking about the application of Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 301, Fuel System Integrity, to a van used by a correctional institution to transport inmates. Your letter has been referred to me for reply. I regret the delay in responding.

As you may know, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act to issue safety standards for new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA issued Standard No. 301 to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from fuel spillage in crashes. The standard applies to new vans manufactured on or after September 1, 1976, that have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or less.

Under the Vehicle Safety Act, each manufacturer of a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. Thus, if the vans in your letter were manufactured on or after September 1, 1976, the van manufacturer was required to certify their compliance with Standard No. 301. However, even if the vans did not comply with that standard, the Act does not place any responsibility for that noncompliance on the first purchasers and subsequent owners of the vans. Since some states do require that vehicles used for certain purposes comply with our standards, you may wish to address your question to appropriate State authorities in Tallahassee.

We regret we cannot provide the testing you seek. NHTSA obtains and tests new vehicles for compliance with FMVSS No. 301. However, since the standard applies only to new vehicles, NHTSA does not conduct compliance tests on vehicles that have already been sold to a consumer. The agency also cannot test every new type or model of vehicle, since it would be impracticable to do so.

For your information, Safety Standard No. 217 specifies emergency exit requirements for vans designed to carry 11 or more persons. However, the standard excludes vans purchased for transporting prison inmates. This exclusion resulted from a determination that the standard's requirements were incompatible with the necessity that buses used for transporting inmates be able to confine their occupants in transit. I have enclosed a copy of Standard No. 217 for your information.

You also asked whether we require roll bars on vehicles used to transport 12, 13 or 14 passengers. The answer is no. However, NHTSA does have a standard for roof crush protection (Standard No. 216) which requires the roof over the front seating area of cars to meet certain strength requirements. NHTSA has proposed to extend the standard to light trucks and buses (GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less). I have enclosed a copy of that proposal for your information.


Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosure /ref:301#217 d:5/l7/90


ID: 24564ogm_Nov18


    Ms. Mary Lowry
    982 Rollingwood Loop, Apt. 114
    Casselberry, FL 32707

    Dear Ms. Lowry:

    This responds to your letter asking for permission to have an automobile repair shop disconnect a malfunctioning seat belt warning system in a 1993 model year passenger car.You state that the warning light and "beeper" in this vehicle have developed "a mind of its own."The warning light and audible warning in the car originally functioned properly and would cease operating when the belt was fastened, but now remain on after the seat belt has been latched.

    As discussed below, it is our opinion that, under the facts stated above, a dealer or repair facility would not violate Federal law by disconnecting the malfunctioning warning system.Further, Federal law does not require dealers or owners to repair a malfunctioning seat belt warning system.

    Nevertheless, we strongly urge that you have the system repaired, so that the vehicle continues to provide maximum safety protection for all occupants during the remainder of its life.Seat belt use is the single most important step that people can take to reduce their risk of injury while riding in a vehicle.We also note that dealers and repair facilities might be affected by State laws in this area, including ones for vehicle inspection.

    By way of background information, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, required 1993 model year cars to be equipped with seat belt warning system that would remind occupants at the front outboard seating positions to fasten their seat belts when the key was placed in the ignition and moved to the "on" or "start" positions.

    Whether a dealer or repair business could disconnect the seat belt warning system is determined by Section 30122 of Chapter 301 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C. 30122).Section 30122(b) prohibits certain businesses from disconnecting or otherwise defeating a required safety device:

      (b)Prohibition. A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard . . .

    However, since the belt warning system in your vehicle is malfunctioning and is already partially inoperative, we would not consider any subsequent disconnection of the warning system as making it fully inoperative.I note, however, that in servicing the vehicle, the dealer or repair shop must not make another part of the vehicle or element of design inoperative with respect to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards.

    In closing, we ask that you contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline about this problem, at 800-424-9393. The report that you make, and other vehicle owners may make, are important information that helps the agency in determining if other vehicles like yours are experiencing the same or similar problems.This information helps us to determine if vehicles contain defects that may have an impact on safety.

    I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please contact Mr. Otto Matheke of my staff at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel



ID: 24568.ztv


    Mr. Harold Miller
    Solid Solutions
    Cage Code 1TQM7
    311 Whispering Pines Lane
    Grants Pass, OR 97527

    Dear Mr. Miller:

    This is in reply to your letter to Richard Van Iderstine of this agency.You asked about the applicability of Federal regulations to a product which you have described.

    The product appears to be a message bar that illuminates with the word "Turning" accompanied by arrows to the right or left, depending on the direction of the turn.It connects to the stop lamp and turn signal "wires" and would be mounted "on the rear of commercial trailers," above the bumper bar and its usual supports. It is activated with the turn signal system.

    With respect to the applicability of regulations that this agency enforces, the product is "motor vehicle equipment," subject to notification and remedial action if it has developed a defect related to motor vehicle safety.In that event, you as the manufacturer would be responsible for notifying owners of the product, and for instituting remedial action in the form of repair, repurchase, or replacement of the product.

    This product would not be acceptable as original motor vehicle equipment.Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 is our regulation that applies to vehicle lighting.It specifies requirements for certain specific items of lighting equipment. If an item of lighting equipment other than those specified is provided as original equipment, it is allowed under paragraph S5.1.3 of Standard No. 108 only if it does not impair the effectiveness of required lighting equipment.In our view, impairment of rear signals may occur if the following driver is confronted with messages and symbols that are unfamiliar in the motoring environment and have the potential to confuse.We believe that your product is prohibited by S5.1.3.

    With respect to the aftermarket, 49 U.S.C. 30122 has the effect of requiring that the installation of any aftermarket vehicle accessory, by a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business, must not "make inoperative" any element of design or device installed on a vehicle in accordance with Standard No. 108. As with original equipment, we regard an accessory lamp mounted on the rear as "making inoperative" a vehicles original rear lighting equipment if it has the potential of creating confusion as to the meaning of the lighting equipment, or detracting a following drivers attention from rear signal lights.

    The "make inoperative" prohibition does not apply to the vehicle owner. However, the accessory lamp remains subject to the laws of the individual States where it will be used. Further, since your product is intended for "commercial trailers," it is subject to the lighting regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for trailers in use in interstate commerce.The FMCSAs opinions are similar to ours and would not allow use of your product on trailers under its jurisdiction.

    If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel



ID: 24572.ztv


Mr. Robert G. Mills
Supervisor, Homologation and Publications
Triumph Designs Limited
Jacknell Road,
Dodwells Bridge Industrial Estate
Hinckley, Leics. LE10 3BS

Dear Mr. Mills:

This is in reply to your letter of June 17, 2002, seeking a further clarification of the applicability of S7.9.6.2 of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 to motorcycle headlamp designs that Triumph is contemplating. You have enclosed two illustrations of potential designs. You referred at various points in your letter to "main beam" and "dipped beam." These are not terms used in Standard No. 108. For purposes of this reply, we assume that "main beam" means "upper beam," and that "dipped beam" means "lower beam."

In our letter of May 24, 2002, to you, we pointed out that the Triumph headlamp design discussed in that letter should be designed to comply with S7.9.6.2(a), rather than S7.9.6.2(b) as you had originally thought. Your review of that paragraph has raised doubts as to whether your design meets that paragraph. The sentence of S7.9.6.2(a) that concerns you reads:

If the headlamp contains more than one light source, each light source shall be mounted on the vertical centerline with the upper beam no higher than the lower beam, or horizontally disposed about the vertical centerline and mounted at the same height.

Illustration 1 depicts two upper ("main") beam and two lower ("dipped") beam light sources, horizontally disposed about the vertical centerline, with the lower beam sources mounted below and inboard of the upper beam light sources. You informed us that your design does not permit mounting all four light sources at the same height, but nevertheless ask whether the design is acceptable since the individual beams will be mounted at the same height. Illustration 2 depicts a "headlamp unit containing three light sources," the center light source providing the upper beam and that the two adjacent light sources, mounted slightly higher, providing the lower beam. You ask whether this three-light source design is acceptable.

The headlamp designs shown in Illustration 1 and Illustration 2 do not meet the design requirements of S7.9.6.2(a) because all light sources are not mounted at the same height, though horizontally disposed about the vertical centerline.

You also asked whether incorporating different numbers of light sources for upper and lower beams, as in Illustration 2, would comply with Standard No. 108. There is no restriction for the number of light sources used in the upper or lower beams of a motorcycle headlamp system designed to conform to the photometry requirements of S7.9.2(a) and the installation requirements of S7.9.6.2.

Jacqueline Glassman
Chief Counsel




ID: 24579


Mr. Tom Peterson
Traffic Manager
Oshkosh Truck Corporation
2307 Oregon Street
Oshkosh, WI 54903

Dear Mr. Peterson:

This responds to your letter dated June 18, 2002, concerning a King Heavy Equipment Military Trailer Model GTS 100 which Oshkosh Truck imported on June 30, 1999, as a prototype trailer for testing and training purposes. The trailer was imported under a Temporary Import Bond, which has had two annual extensions. The 3-year limit is June 30, 2002. You would like to keep the trailer in the U.S. for further testing and training, and suggested that it might be "reclassified to off-road usage only." You indicated in a telephone conversation with a member of my staff that the further testing and training would relate to military use.

As discussed below, while we doubt the vehicle could be considered an off-road vehicle,[1] we believe, based on the facts provided in your letter, that the trailer can remain in the U.S. under 49 CFR 571.7(c).

According to your letter, the trailer in question was designed and built in the UK strictly for military usage. Oshkosh Truck designed the trailer specifically to operate with the Oshkosh M1070 Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) tractor for carriage of main battle tanks up to 72 tons in weight, or to carry two lighter armored vehicles up to 36 tons each. Oshkosh Truck won a bid to build 92 UK HET tractor/trailer combinations and the trailer was built as a prototype as part of the building process. Since the trailer has been in the United States, it has been hauled on a commercial double-drop trailer to various proving grounds, including the Aberdeen proving grounds in Maryland, for testing purposes.

Under 49 CFR 571.7(c), no Federal motor vehicle standard applies to a vehicle or item of equipment manufactured for, and sold directly to, the Armed Forces of the United States in conformity with contractual specifications. In a letter to Oshkosh Truck dated July 3, 1986, we stated that while this exception applies only to vehicles manufactured for sale, the agency had no objection to limited use on the public roads of nonconforming prototype vehicles that have been developed expressly for sale to the Armed Forces of the United States.

We believe the situation you describe is sufficiently close to that described in 571.7(c) and our July 3, 1986, letter that the prototype King Heavy Equipment Military Trailer Model GTS 100 can remain in the U.S. under that section. I emphasize, however, that this opinion is limited to the specific factual situation involving this vehicle and should not be considered as precedent as to how we might treat other situations. I note that we would not apply this section to individuals importing surplus military vehicles.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Edward Glancy of my staff at 202-366-2992.

Jacqueline Glassman
Chief Counsel

[1] According to information provided with your letter, in designing the vehicle, attention was paid "to meet existing and known future transport legislation to meet the anticipated peacetime movement requirements." More specifically, the semi-trailer was designed to meet European requirements for the movement of heavy loads with the ability to negotiate compliant surfaces and maintain a degree of "off-highway" capability. (Emphasis added.) Thus, while Oshkosh Truck may not plan to use this particular trailer on the U.S. highways, it does not appear to be an off-road vehicle.


ID: 24604.ztv


    Jeff Barnett, President
    Consumer Imports, LLC
    Box 56
    Allen, TX 75002

    Dear Mr. Barnett:

    This is in reply to your letter asking for an interpretation of our regulations with respect to a product you wish to import and sell, called "Signalfly."

    Signalfly consists of four components: a receiver module unit (RMU), a fused transmitter module unit (Fused TMU), a transmitter infrared unit (TIU), and an A/C charger. The RMU houses the LED light sources of the lamp. It is affixed to a motorcycle helmet through an adhesive material. The Fused TMU is connected to the motorcycles stop lamp wiring. The TIU is mounted on the rear of the motorcycle. The charger is used to recharge the RMU when it is not in use. When the motorcyclist applies the brakes, the RMU affixed to the motorcyclists helmet "flashes approximately 1.5 flashes per second."

    The components of Signalfly are defined as "motor vehicle equipment" under our regulations. There are no Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) that directly apply to these individual items of motor vehicle equipment. However, when the components operate as a system, they raise issues that impact two Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS).

    The first standard affected is FMVSS No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets, and the second is FMVSS No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment.

    Specifically, FMVSS No. 218 (S5.5) prohibits a motorcycle helmet from having a rigid projection on the outside of a helmet shell, except for "those required for operation of essential accessories, and shall not protrude more than 0.20 inch (5 mm)." We do not regard Signalfly as an "essential accessory" within the meaning of the phrase. This means that a motorcycle helmet to which Signalfly is attached would not comply with FMVSS No. 218. Although we understand Signalfly is intended to be sold in the aftermarket, I would like to point out that under 49 U.S.C. 30112(a), it is a violation to manufacture for sale, sell, or offer for sale a motorcycle helmet that fails to comply with FMVSS No. 218. This means that a helmet may not be sold with the RMU attached to the helmet, or as part of the sale of a new helmet. A helmet owner who buys Signalfly and attaches the RMU would not be in violation of Federal regulations but, in our view, would be deprived of the head protection that FMVSS No. 218 seeks to assure. Whether it is legal for a person to operate a motorcycle while wearing a helmet with the RMU attached is not a Federal question, but a question to be answered under the laws of each jurisdiction in which Signalfly is used. We also raise the possibility that the RMU may cover or obstruct the DOT symbol that constitutes the manufacturers certification that the helmet complies with FMVSS No. 218. I might add that we are also concerned that the adhesive attachment to the helmet might cause a chemical reaction to the shell and reduce the dynamic impact performance of the helmet (see S5.6.1(f)(2)). It is this agencys policy to discourage motorcycle helmet users from modifying their helmets.

    In relation to the FMVSS including FMVSS No. 108, we also administer a law that forbids manufacturers, dealers, distributors, or motor vehicle repair businesses from making "inoperative" any original equipment on a vehicle that is installed in accordance with a Federal safety standard, such as a stop lamp on a motorcycle. Because of the potential of an additional, flashing, stop lamp to cause confusion with the required steady-burning stop lamp, it is our opinion that the installation and use of the Signalfly would make the required stop lamp partially "inoperative" within the meaning of the prohibition. However, the prohibition would not apply if the motorcycle's owner installed the Signalfly. Whether it is legal to use the device on public roads depends upon the law of the state where the Signalfly is operated. We are not able to advise you about the applicability of State law.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel



ID: 24605Pitman_vest_with_LATCH


    Ms. Elizabeth J. Pitman
    13970 S.W. 72nd Avenue
    Portland, OR 97223-8036

    Dear Ms. Pitman:

    This responds to your letter concerning a child harness system that you would like to manufacture. You ask whether your design would meet all the requirements set forth in Standards No. 213, "Child Restraint Systems," and No. 225, "Child Restraint Anchorage Systems."

    According to the sketches you provided, the harness is designed to attach to a vehicle seat using either a vehicle lap belt or the two lower bars of a vehicles "LATCH" [1] system. There also is a top "tether strap." In vehicle seating positions that lack a tether anchor, the tether strap will wrap around the vehicle seat back. You informed Dee Fujita of my staff in an October 15, 2002, telephone call that the harness does not need the tether strap to meet the requirements of Standard No. 213, "Child Restraint Systems." You stated that the tether strap is provided "to reinforce the seat back."

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines the compliance of products with the safety standards in the context of an agency enforcement proceeding. Thus, we are unable to render an opinion as to whether your harness would meet the requirements of Standard No. 213. (Standard No. 225 applies to motor vehicles and thus would not apply to your product.) Further, NHTSA does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, it would be your responsibility as a manufacturer to determine the requirements that apply and certify the compliance of your product with those requirements. [2]

    We can make the following interpretation of Standard No. 213s requirements as applied to your product. Child restraint harness systems are not required by Standard No. 213 to have attachments ("LATCH components") that enable the restraint to connect to a child restraint anchorage system on a vehicle. We excluded harnesses from the requirement out of practicability concerns. However, if you provide LATCH components on your harness, the harness must be able to meet Standard No. 213s performance requirements when attached using the LATCH components. Under S6.1.2(a)(1)(i)(C) of the standard, we will attach the harness to the LATCH system "in accordance with the manufacturers instructions provided with the system pursuant to S5.6.1." Further, the LATCH components, including the tether strap, must not make inoperative the attaching and performance of the harness with the seat belt.

    We would also like to observe that vehicle manufacturers design their vehicle seats to comply with the strength requirements of Standard No. 207, "Seating Systems." The wrap-around tether belt could impose an additional load on the vehicle seat back in a crash.

    You also ask whether the harness is "acceptable to replace a booster seat in [sic] a standard car seat."We regret that we cannot provide the opinion you seek. NHTSA does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Further, we are unfamiliar with the use of LATCH components on harnesses.

    If you have further questions, please contact Ms. Fujita at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel


    [1] "LATCH" is a term developed by industry and retail groups referring to the child restraint anchorage system required by Standard No. 225. LATCH stands for "lower anchorages and tethers for children." For convenience, we will use the term in this letter.

    [2] For purposes of enforcement, this agency conducts spot checks of child restraints after they have been certified as complying with Standard No. 213, by purchasing and testing the child restraints according to the procedures specified in the standard. If the restraints pass the tests, no further steps are taken. If the child restraints fail the test and are determined not to comply with Standard No. 213, the manufacturer of the child restraint is subject to the recall responsibilities of our statute. Manufacturers must also ensure that their products are free of safety-related defects. Our statute specifies that, in the case of a child restraint which fails to comply with Standard No. 213 or contains a safety‑related defect, the manufacturer must notify purchasers and either: (a) repair the child restraint, so that the defect or noncompliance is removed; or (b) replace the child restraint with an identical or reasonably equivalent child restraint which does not have the defect or noncompliance. Whichever of these options is chosen, the child restraint manufacturer must bear the expense and cannot charge the child restraint owner for the remedy.


ID: 24625.ztv


    Mr. Anthony Dowling
    5290 45th Avenue N.
    St. Petersburg, FL 33709

    Dear Mr. Dowling:

    This is in reply to your letter of June 17, 2002, asking for an interpretation regarding the legality under Federal law of your "U-Turn Traffic Signal Indicator" (the "Indicator)."

    The patent drawings that you enclosed show a U-shaped lamp 3 to 4 inches in height with a crossbar bearing the word "TURN;" the lamp and crossbar are illuminated by flashing yellow LEDs. We assume that the device operates independently of the turn signal system of the vehicle on which it is installed.

    I enclose a copy of a 1988 interpretation letter of this Office addressed to Wayne Apple who wrote on the general subject of U-turn indicators. In that letter, we advised Mr. Apple that a supplemental lighting device such as a U-turn indicator would be acceptable as original vehicle equipment provided that it did not impair the effectiveness of a vehicles required lighting equipment. We also addressed the indicator as aftermarket equipment. The general principles expressed in the letter remain valid, but 15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)(A) has been recodified as 49 U.S.C. 30122. Further, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) has moved to 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22203.

    However, Mr. Apple asked a hypothetical question while you have presented a detailed design of a U-turn indicator for our analysis. Under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, turn signal lamps are permitted to flash but accessory lamps must be steady burning (S5.5.10). We cannot regard your flashing U-turn indicator as a supplemental turn signal lamp and permitted to flash as it appears to operate independently of the turn signal system of the vehicle on which it would be installed. Further, it does not indicate either a right or left turn. Therefore, it would not be permissible as original vehicle equipment under S5.5.10.

    Our second reservation concerns the unique design of the indicator and the presence of the word "TURN" on the crossbar. The shape of the indicator is one that is unfamiliar to motorists. Further, we discourage the use of words or messages on lighting equipment because we believe that they may distract a following driver from reacting to signals from stop or turn signal lamps, hence, impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108 within the meaning of paragraph S5.1.3 of that standard (see our letter to Mr. Apple). Therefore, in our opinion, your indicator would not be permitted as original vehicle equipment by S5.1.3 because of its shape and use of the word "TURN."

    Aftermarket lighting equipment may not be installed by a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business if it "makes inoperative" any element of design or device installed in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard. As a general rule, if an accessory lamp is not permitted as original equipment, it is also not permitted as replacement equipment. However, neither Section 30122 nor any other Federal law would prohibit the owner of a vehicle from installing the U-turn indicator. Nevertheless, the U-turn indicator would be subject to the laws of the individual States in which it is used and which may or may not permit it. We regret that we are unable to provide you with interpretations of State laws.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel



ID: 24724_PruittTray


    Ms. Ondiya Pruitt
    956 Zion Circle
    Roswell, GA 30075

    Dear Ms. Pruitt:

    This responds to your letter asking about safety regulations for a "car seat tray" that you wish to manufacture. The documents you have provided indicate that the tray is intended to provide an "eating/play surface that can be positioned within the reach on an infant or young child that is sitting in a child restraint seat."From the sketch you provided, it appears that the tray attaches to the child restraint by flexible straps. You state that the tray would be sold to owners of child restraints through stores selling baby products and related items.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to issue safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA has used its authority to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213, "Child Restraint Systems," to reduce the number of children killed or injured in motor vehicles. (This standard is found in volume 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 571.213.[1]) Each new child restraint system, which includes "car seats," must be certified as complying with the requirements of Standard No. 213. This means that, if your car seat tray were sold as part of a new child restraint, the child restraint would be required to comply with all of the requirements of the standard with the tray attached.

    As Part of A New Child Restraint

    It does not appear that a new child restraint could meet Standard No. 213 with the tray installed. Section S5.2.2.2 of the standard prohibits any fixed or moveable surface in front of the child except for surfaces that adequately restrain a test dummy in a 20 mile per hour test (see also S6.1.1(b)(2) and S6.1.2(a)(2)). The requirement is to prevent items that could injure a child in a crash from being installed where they could be impacted by a child. It appears that your tray would not be able to restrain the test dummy in the test. If so, a child restraint with the tray would not comply with Standard No. 213. In other words, a manufacturer of a child restraint could not sell such a tray as a part of its new child restraint system.

    Also, a new child restraint with the tray attached to it might not comply with S5.2.4 of Standard No. 213. S5.2.4 requires any rigid part of the child restraint that can be contacted by the head or torso of the dummy in the dynamic test to have a height of not more than 3/8 inch above any adjacent surface, and have no exposed edge with a radius of less than 1/4 inch. If the head or torso of a restrained dummy could impact the tray, these requirements apply.

    Further, child restraint systems recommended for use by children weighing less than 20 pounds must comply with paragraph S5.2.3.2 of FMVSS No. 213. That paragraph requires that each child restraint surface contactable by the child dummys head during a crash test shall be covered with slow recovery energy absorbing materials with specified characteristics. This requirement ensures that children riding in these child restraints will not suffer unnecessary head injuries during crashes.

    Aftermarket Item

    If your product will be sold to consumers as an aftermarket item, Standard No. 213 does not apply to it, since the standard only applies to new child restraints and not to accessory items. There is no Federal motor vehicle safety standard that applies to a tray.

    However, while Standard No. 213 does not apply to the child restraint tray, your product is considered to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements of 49 U.S.C. 30118-30121 concerning the recall and remedy of products with safety-related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those and other manufacturer responsibilities. In the event you or NHTSA determines that your product contains a safety-related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge. If information indicated that a child seat accessory exposed occupants to an unreasonable risk of injury, the agency might conduct a defect investigation which could lead to a safety recall.

    In addition, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and motor vehicle repair businesses are subject to 49 U.S.C. 30122. This section prohibits them from installing the tray if it "makes inoperative" compliance with any safety standard, such as Standard No. 213. It appears unlikely that your product would be attached to a child restraint by persons in the aforementioned categories. However, if such a person were to attach the tray, he or she could violate 30112 if the child restraints compliance with Standard No. 213 were compromised.

    The "make inoperative" prohibition of 30122 does not apply to the actions of vehicle owners in adding to or otherwise modifying their vehicles or items of motor vehicle equipment.

    Thus, child restraint owners could attach the tray without having to meet Standard No. 213. However, we urge consumers not to degrade the safety systems of their vehicles or equipment.

    I hope this is helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Ms. Deirdre Fujita of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel


    [1] The agency recently proposed a number of revisions to the standard, including proposals for incorporating new test dummies and extending the standard to apply to restraints recommended for use by children up to 65 pounds. 67 FR 21806 (May 1, 2002).


Request an Interpretation

You may email your request to or send your request in hard copy to:

The Chief Counsel
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, W41-326
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590

If you want to talk to someone at NHTSA about what a request for interpretation should include, call the Office of the Chief Counsel at 202-366-2992.

Please note that NHTSA’s response will be made available in this online database, and that the incoming interpretation request may also be made publicly available.