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NHTSA Interpretation File Search

Overview

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.

Wildcard

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).

Not

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 31 - 40 of 16503
Interpretations Date
 

ID: 2504y

Open

Virve Airola
Oy Toppi Ab
Toppi Plast.
PL 25 P.O. Box
SF-02321 ESPOO
Finland

Dear Mr. Airola:

This responds to your letter concerning Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 106, Brake Hoses. We understand that you are interested in supplying your products to a vehicle manufacturer (Saab-Scania), who specifies that you must "register" with this agency as a brake hose manufacturer. You request information that would enable you to meet this product specification. I regret the delay in responding.

By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administers Federal regulations for the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and certain items of motor vehicle equipment (including brake hoses) sold in or imported into this country. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act establishes a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. This process requires each manufacturer to determine in the exercise of due care that its products meet all applicable requirements. NHTSA tests vehicles and equipment sold to consumers for compliance with the FMVSS's and investigates defects relating to motor vehicle safety. If a manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a noncompliance or safety-related defect exists, the manufacturer must notify purchasers of its product and remedy the problem free of charge. (Note that this responsibility is borne by the vehicle manufacturer in cases in which your hoses are installed on a new vehicle by or with the express authorization of that vehicle manufacturer.) Any manufacturer which fails to provide notification of or remedy for a noncompliance or defect may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation.

Saab-Scania's product specification appears to relate to the labeling requirements of Standard No. 106. Under S7.2.1(b) of Standard No. 106, air brake hose manufacturers must label their hose with a designation (consisting of block capital letters, numerals or a symbol) that identifies the manufacturer of the hose. The designation assists NHTSA in identifying the manufacturers of noncomplying or defective brake hoses. There is no NHTSA application form for the designation; instead, the manufacturer simply files the designation in writing with NHTSA's Crash Avoidance Division, at the address provided in S7.2.1(b) of the standard.

From your letter, it appears that Saab-Scania also specifies that your brake hoses must meet all applicable FMVSS's. Standard No. 106 applies to new motor vehicles and to "brake hoses" (which include plastic tubing), brake hose end fittings, and brake hose assemblies. The standard specifies labeling and performance requirements for these products to reduce the likelihood of brake system failure from ruptures in the brake hose or brake hose assembly. New brake hoses, end fittings and assemblies must meet these requirements to be sold in or imported into this country. If they don't comply, the manufacturers are subject to civil penalties of $1000 per violation, and the notification and remedy provisions of the Safety Act. I have enclosed a copy of the standard for your information, photocopied from the October 1, 1989 edition of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR 571.106).

In addition to the requirements described above, please note that your manufacture of brake hoses may also be affected by NHTSA's longstanding interpretation of our regulation on manufacturer identification (49 CFR Part 566; copy enclosed), if Saab-Scania sells vehicles equipped with your brake hoses in this country. This rule requires a manufacturer of equipment to which an FMVSS applies ("covered equipment"--e.g., brake hoses) to submit its name, address, and a brief description of the items of equipment it manufactures to NHTSA separately from the vehicle manufacturer to which the equipment manufacturer supplies its products. NHTSA has interpreted this regulation to require the information from foreign manufacturers of covered equipment supplying their products to a foreign vehicle manufacturer selling its vehicles in the United States. (Enclosed is a copy of the agency's January 26, 1972 letter to Mr. Nakajima of Toyota Motor Company on this issue.)

Please note that Oy Toppi is not required to designate an agent for service of process under 49 CFR Part 551 (Subpart D), if Oy Toppi supplies its products only to a foreign vehicle manufacturer. This is the case even if the foreign vehicle manufacturer installs Oy Toppi's products on vehicles that will be sold in the United States. However, please keep in mind that Oy Toppi must designate an agent under Part 551 if Oy Toppi decides to offer its equipment for importation into the United States. I have enclosed a copy of this regulation for your information.

I hope this information is helpful. Please contact us if you have further questions.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosures /ref:106#VSA#566#551 d:5/3l/90

1970

ID: 2505y

Open

Mr. Suichi Watanabe
General Manager
Automotive Lighting
Engineering Control Department
Stanley Electric Co., Ltd.
2-9-13, Nakameguro, Meguro-ku
Tokyo 153, Japan

Dear Mr. Watanabe:

This is in reply to your letter of March 19, 1990, asking whether a new combination rear lamp is permitted under Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. l08.

The lamp consists of three compartments. In its normal operating mode, when the taillamp and/or stop lamp are activated, all three compartments show a red light. Your question arises with respect to three different operating modes. The first occurs when the turn signal is activated; the red light in one of the compartments is replaced by an amber flashing one. The second occurs when the backup lamp is activated; the red light in another of the compartments is replaced by a white steady-burning one. The third occurs when both the backup lamp and turn signal are activated; in this event, the combination lamp would present an amber flashing light, a red steady-burning one, and a white steady-burning one. You have informed us that "the requirement of photometric and lighted area for each lamp function comply to FMVSS No. l08 and related SAE Standards." Further, as for the stop and taillamp functions, they comply with requirements for one and three compartment lamps when operating with one or three compartments (we assume that they would also meet the requirements for two compartment lamps).

The lamp appears to be intended to fulfill the requirements of Standard No. l08 for turn signal, stop, tail, and backup lamps. Thus, your question appears to be whether Standard No. l08 requires separate lamps or compartments dedicated to a specific purpose, or whether your multiple purpose lamp is acceptable.

Standard No. l08 does not prohibit a combination of the functions that any chamber of your lamp provides. When a specific function is activated, the lamp will perform that particular function in a manner that appears to meet the minimum standard established by Standard No. l08. Assuming that the CIE color definitions for white, amber, and red are met by the backup, turn, and stop/tail functions, the lamp appears to be permissible under Standard No. l08.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

ref:l08 d: 5/3l/90

1970

ID: 2506y

Open

Mr. Suichi Watanabe
General Manager
Automotive Lighting
Engineering Control Department
Stanley Electric Co., Ltd.
2-9-13, Nakameguro, Meguro-ku
Tokyo 153, Japan

Dear Mr. Watanabe:

This is in reply to your letter of March 19, 1990, asking whether a new combination rear lamp is permitted under Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. l08.

The lamp consists of three compartments. In its normal operating mode, when the taillamp and/or stop lamp are activated, all three compartments show a red light. Your question arises with respect to three different operating modes. The first occurs when the turn signal is activated; the red light in one of the compartments is replaced by an amber flashing one. The second occurs when the backup lamp is activated; the red light in another of the compartments is replaced by a white steady-burning one. The third occurs when both the backup lamp and turn signal are activated; in this event, the combination lamp would present an amber flashing light, a red steady-burning one, and a white steady-burning one. You have informed us that "the requirement of photometric and lighted area for each lamp function comply to FMVSS No. l08 and related SAE Standards." Further, as for the stop and taillamp functions, they comply with requirements for one and three compartment lamps when operating with one or three compartments (we assume that they would also meet the requirements for two compartment lamps).

The lamp appears to be intended to fulfill the requirements of Standard No. l08 for turn signal, stop, tail, and backup lamps. Thus, your question appears to be whether Standard No. l08 requires separate lamps or compartments dedicated to a specific purpose, or whether your multiple purpose lamp is acceptable.

Standard No. l08 does not prohibit a combination of the functions that any chamber of your lamp provides. When a specific function is activated, the lamp will perform that particular function in a manner that appears to meet the minimum standard established by Standard No. l08. Assuming that the CIE color definitions for white, amber, and red are met by the backup, turn, and stop/tail functions, the lamp appears to be permissible under Standard No. l08.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

ref:l08 d: 5/3l/90

1970

ID: 2507y

Open

Mr. Mike Love
Manager, Safety Compliance
Porsche Cars North America, Inc.
100 West Liberty Street
P. O. Box 30911
Reno, Nevada 89520-3911

Dear Mr. Love:

This responds to your request that this agency determine that the new feature added to the antitheft device proposed to be installed on the MY 1991 911 and 928 Porsche car lines, represents a de minimis change in the system that was the basis for the agency's previous granting of a theft exemption for those car lines beginning in MY 1990, and that therefore Porsche 911's and 928's containing the new device would be fully covered by that exemption.

As you are aware, the Porsche 911 and 928 car lines were granted an exemption, pursuant to 49 CFR Part 543, from antitheft marking because Porsche showed that the antitheft device to be used in lieu of marking on these car lines was likely to be as effective as parts marking. This exemption was issued on May 25, 1989, and appeared in the Federal Register on June 2, 1989 (54 FR 23727).

The agency granted the exemption from theft marking because the agency found that based on substantial evidence, the agency believed that the antitheft device is "likely to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as compliance with the parts-marking requirements of the theft prevention standard (49 CFR Part 541)." In the granting of the exemption from theft marking, the agency stated that it believed that the device will provide the types of performance listed in 49 CFR Part 543.6(a)(3): Promoting activation; attracting attention to unauthorized entries; preventing defeat or circumventing of the device by unauthorized persons; preventing operation of the vehicle by unauthorized entrants; and ensuring the reliability and durability of the device.

In your letter, it was stated that beginning from MY 1991, Porsche plans to modify the antitheft device that is standard equipment on the Porsche 911 and 928, as follows: integrate the alarm control unit with the central locking and interior light control units; incorporate a feature that will also monitor the glove box for unauthorized opening; improve diagnostic capability in order to enhance serviceability; and install a capability to accept other features (such as motion sensors) if they are desired in the future.

In addition, it was stated that the changes in the system will be virtually unnoticeable to the operator, and that the system will still be armed passively by locking either door with the key. Further, with the addition of the glovebox, all the same points of entry, such as the doors, hood, and hatch, will be monitored by the system and the engine disabling and alarm features will be the same. Porsche further stated that the system "will be as protected and tamper resistant as the current system."

After reviewing the proposed changes to the componentry and performance of the antitheft device on which the exemption was based, the agency concludes that the changes are de minimis. While the new device has enhanced componentry and provides some aspects of performance not provided by the original device, it also continues to provide the same aspects of performance provided by the original device and relies on essentially the same componentry to provide that performance. Therefore, it is not necessary for Porsche to submit a petition to modify the exemption pursuant to 49 CFR Part 543.9(c)(2).

If Porsche does not implement the new antitheft device as described in your letter, or delays implementation until after MY 1991, we request that Porsche notify the agency of such decisions.

It is my understanding that, in an April 13, 1990, telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of NHTSA's Office of Chief Counsel, you stated that Porsche was not requesting confidential treatment of any information provided in your letter. Therefore, a copy of your letter, and this response, will be placed together in NHTSA's public docket.

Sincerely,

Barry Felrice Associate Administrator for Rulemaking

ref:Part 543 d:5/3l/90

1970

ID: 2508y

Open

Mr. Michael S. Kmiecik
5601 Western Avenue
Omaha, Nebraska 68132

Dear Mr. Kmiecik:

This responds to your letter with respect to vehicle modification kits you wish to purchase and use in the conversion of used Datsun cars. You asked about the Part 58l Bumper Standard and Safety Standard No. 2l5 with respect to using Datsuns produced before September l, l978. You asked whether the kit would meet the requirements of Safety Standard No. 2l5. I regret the delay in responding. (I note that you sent a separate letter asking about the safety standards that apply to l974-78 convertibles, and whether the conversion kit meets those standards. I am responding to that letter separately).

We appreciate your efforts to meet the requirements of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. A provision of the Act requires, in essence, that vehicle alterations by a motor vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer or repair business must not render wholly or partially inoperative any device or element of design installed on that vehicle in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard. This means that a vehicle at the end of its conversion process must continue to meet the standards that applied at the time that it was first manufactured.

As you may know, the Part 58l Bumper Standard became applicable to passenger cars manufactured on or after September l, l978. It replaced Safety Standard No. 2l5, Exterior Protection, which applied to passenger cars manufactured from September l, l972 to August 30, l978.

In converting a car to which Standard No. 2l5 originally applied, care must be taken to ensure that the changes do not affect the ability to conform to the applicable performance requirements of that standard (copy enclosed). We regret that we are unable to advise you of the effect that any specific modifications would have on the performance of the vehicle as converted. The manufacturer of the kit may be able to provide information on this subject. You also requested a copy of Safety Standard No. l08, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment. I have enclosed a copy of that standard revised as of October l, l989. I have also enclosed an information sheet which provides information for new manufacturers, and includes information concerning how to obtain copies of safety standards.

I hope this information is helpful.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosures

ref:58l:VSA

ID: 2509y

Open

Timothy A. Kelly, President
Salem Vent International, Inc.
P.O. Box 885
Salem, VA 24153

Dear Mr. Kelly:

This responds to your request for an interpretation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217; Bus Window Retention and Release as it applies to roof exits. You asked four specific questions which I have addressed below.

First, you asked for confirmation that the only specification in Standard No. 217 concerning the size of roof exits is the requirement that the exit be able to accommodate an ellipsoid with a major axis of 20 inches and a minor axis of 13 inches pushed horizontally through the exit opening. Your understanding is not entirely correct. The ellipsoid requirement to which you refer, set forth in S5.4.1 of Standard No. 217, is the only provision in the standard that specifies a minimum size requirement for roof exit openings. Although there is no maximum size limit, you should be aware that S5.2 of Standard No. 217 provides that, in determining the total unobstructed openings for emergency exit provided by a bus, no emergency exit, regardless of its area shall be credited with more than 536 square inches of the total area requirement. Thus, if a roof exit is larger than 536 square inches, only 536 square inches will be counted for the exit in determining whether the bus complies with the unobstructed openings requirement of S5.2 of Standard No. 217.

Second, you asked for confirmation that Standard No. 217 does not permit the use of escape hatches or ventilators in the roof of school buses as a substitute for any of the emergency exits required on school buses by S5.2.3 of Standard No. 217. This understanding is correct. Additionally, you should be aware that the agency has a longstanding position that any emergency exits, including any roof exits, installed on a school bus in addition to the emergency exits required by S5.2.3 must conform to the requirements of Standard No. 217 for emergency exits installed on buses other than school buses. See the enclosed July 6, 1979 interpretation to Robert Kurre on this issue. Third, you asked for confirmation that Standard No. 217 permits the use of roof exits as a substitute for the rear exit door on buses other than school buses. This statement is not entirely correct. S5.2.1 of Standard No. 217 requires the use of a rear exit door on all non-school buses with a GVWR of more than 10,000 lbs., except where the configuration of the bus precludes the installation of an accessible rear exit. In that case, S5.2.1 requires the installation of a roof exit in the rear half of the bus in lieu of the rear exit. This substitution of a roof exit for a rear exit door is allowed only where the bus design precludes the use of a rear exit (such as on rear-engine buses). It is not an option allowing the substitution of a roof exit for the rear door in any design.

Fourth, you asked whether the addition of more than one roof exit on a non-school bus would allow a manufacturer to delete any other required exits in addition to the rear door. It is possible that increasing the total exit space on the bus by adding roof exits could enable a manufacturer to reduce the number or size of other emergency exits on the bus and still comply with the unobstructed openings requirement of S5.2. You should be aware that exit space provided by roof exits is not counted in determining compliance with the requirement in S5.2 that 40 percent of the total unobstructed openings be located on each side of the bus. Whether this substitution of additional roof exits could be made on any particular non-school bus would depend upon whether the bus complied with the exit space and location requirements of S5.2.1 (if the bus has a GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds) and the applicable requirements of S5.2.2 (if the bus has a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less).

I hope you have found this information helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact David Greenburg of my staff at (202) 366-2992 if you have any further questions or need additional information.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosure

/ref:217 d:5/30/90

1990

ID: 2510y

Open

Mr. Raymond D. Strakosch
President
Safety Premiums
87 Broadway
P. O. Box 1031
Newburgh, NY 12550

Dear Mr. Strakosch:

Thank you for your letter to John Messera, of our Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, seeking an interpretation of Standard No. 125, Warning Devices (49 CFR 571.125). You indicated that you have for many years produced and sold a "Signal Glo Car Door Mirror Clip On," which you described as a "dangling safety tag which attaches to the car mirror to alert passersby of emergency needs." These warning devices are made of a reflective plastic material designed with a clip attachment, and come in eight different shapes, including a triangular configuration. These products are slightly more than four inches high.

You also stated that, pursuant to a request from a customer, your company has developed a larger size warning triangle for mounting on a car mirror. You have provided a prototype of this new larger size "Lite at Nite" Reflective Auto Triangle, that is approximately 6" at the base and 5 1/2" in height. You stated that, as your warning triangle gets larger, you "wish to make sure it is not confused with the roadside truck version described in Standard No. 125." Additionally, you stated that you wanted to be certain that the instructions for this larger size warning triangle "in no way conflict with the standard." I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our law and regulations to you.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq.; the Safety Act) gives this agency the authority to issue safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. This agency has exercised this authority to establish Standard No. 125. Section S3 of Standard 125 states that the standard "applies to devices, without self-contained energy sources, that are designed to be carried in motor vehicles, and used to warn approaching traffic of the presence of a stopped vehicle, except for devices designed to be permanently affixed to the vehicle." (Emphasis added.)

This language in S3 of Standard No. 125 makes clear that the standard's requirements are not limited to devices used by large trucks; that is, Standard No. 125 does not apply only to a "roadside truck version" of a warning device. Instead, the standard applies to all devices designed to be carried in any motor vehicle, from the smallest motorcycle to the largest truck, if the device satisfies the other conditions set forth in S3 of the standard.

One of the conditions set forth in S3 is that the device must be designed to be used to "warn approaching traffic of a stopped vehicle." Devices that are not intended to warn approaching traffic of a stopped vehicle, but only to alert passing traffic of the stopped vehicle's need for assistance, are not subject to Standard No. 125. Examples of such devices include a rag tied on a radio antenna and a "HELP" message printed on a folding cardboard sunshade. By the time approaching traffic sees one of these non-warning devices, the traffic would already be aware that the vehicle displaying such a device was stopped.

Your "Signal Glo Car Door Mirror Clip On" product appears to be designed and to function in the same way other non-warning devices do; i.e., it does not appear to be intended to warn approaching traffic of a stopped vehicle, but to alert passing traffic that the stopped vehicle needs assistance. If this is the case, the "Signal Glo Car Door Mirror Clip On" would not be subject to Standard No. 125.

However, the larger "Lite at Nite" Reflective Auto Triangle may be designed to be used to "warn approaching traffic of a stopped vehicle." It appears from the promotional material enclosed in your letter that this larger triangle is intended to serve the same purpose as what you call "truck warning triangles." We assume that you are describing warning devices that are certified as complying with Standard No. 125. If your larger triangle is to serve this function, it would be subject to Standard No. 125 and would have to conform to all the requirements of the standard. From the enclosed copy of Standard No. 125, you will see that some of the specific requirements with which the larger triangle must conform include minimum size, durability, material, container, labeling, configuration, color, reflectivity, luminance, and stability.

When the agency has issued an applicable safety standard, section 108(a)(1)(A) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(1)(A)) provides that no person shall "manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, or introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce, or import into the United States" any new motor vehicle or new item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicles or equipment are in conformity with the applicable standard. Further, the Safety Act provides that NHTSA has no authority to approve, certify, or otherwise endorse any commercial product. Instead, section 114 of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C 1403) establishes a self-certification process under which every manufacturer is required to certify that each of its products meet all applicable Federal safety standards. To comply with any applicable legal obligations, especially in connection with the manufacture of the larger size warning triangle, I suggest that you carefully examine the requirements of Standard 125 and consider the design, marketing, and intended use of the new larger warning triangle. You should also be aware that the Safety Act establishes a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation of a safety standard and a maximum penalty of $800,000 for a series of violations. In addition, the Act requires manufacturers to notify purchasers and remedy any items of motor vehicle equipment, such as warning devices, that do not conform with any applicable safety standards.

I have also enclosed an information sheet for new manufacturers of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment, that briefly summarizes our laws and regulations and explains how to get copies of those laws and regulations. If you have any further questions or need additional information on this subject, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosures ref:125 d:6/5/90

1990

ID: 2511y

Open

Mr. C. Coleman Bird
Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz
1300 Nineteenth St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Dear Mr. Bird:

This responds to your request for an interpretation by this office as to whether a portable back massage device capable of being used in an automobile and powered by the vehicle's electrical system constitutes a piece of motor vehicle equipment as that term is used in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (the Act). I regret the delay in responding to your inquiry.

The product you described in your letter consists of an inflatable cushion that conforms to the user's back and contains two electric massage units capable of massaging the upper and lower portions of the user's back. The device can also provide heat. It is designed for use either indoors or in a vehicle by means of an adapter which plugs into the cigarette lighter. When the device is used in a vehicle, it is simply placed on the seat, and does not require any additional installation, other than connection to a power supply. You have asked three questions about this device, which I have discussed below.

Your first question was whether this device would be considered an item of "motor vehicle equipment" within the meaning of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act? Section 102(4) of the Act (15 U.S.C. 1391(4)) defines, in part, the term "motor vehicle equipment" as:

any system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured or any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement of such system, part, or component or as any accessory, or addition to the motor vehicle..... (Emphasis added.) Since the portable back massage device is not original equipment or sold for replacment or improvement of any original equipment, it would be included within this definition only if it were an "accessory." In determining whether an item of equipment is considered an "accessory," the agency considers the following two criteria:

First, when a substantial portion of the expected uses of a product are related to the operation or maintenance of motor vehicles, the product should be considered an item of motor vehicle equipment within the meaning of the Safety Act. Second, if the product is intended to be used principally by ordinary users of such motor vehicles, we would consider it to be an accessory.

Based on the limited information you have provided, I am unable to reach a conclusion as to whether the back massage device would be considered an item of motor vehicle equipment. However, I will explain the considerations the agency focuses upon when applying the above critieria to specific products.

We would determine the expected uses of a product by considering the product advertising, product labeling, and the type of store which retails the product, as well as any available information about the actual use of the product. We anticipate that products found to satisfy the first criterion will ordinarily, although not necessarily, be ones that are carried in a vehicle. For example, if the device is portrayed in advertising as being in used in motor vehicles, includes as a standard feature a 12 volt adapter enabling its use in a vehicle, and is sold through retail outlets specializing in automotive equipment and accesories, it would be more likely to be considered an item of motor vehicle equipment than a product which did not have these characteris- tics. In evaluating the second criteria, the agency looks at whether the product is intended primarily for the use of consumers, rather than by professionals such as automotive repair and service personnel.

Your second question concerned whether the back massager would be subject to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). If the device is not determined to be an item of motor vehicle equipment, it is beyond the scope of the agency's authority to regulate it. Even if it is determined to be motor vehicle equipment, and therefore subject to other provisions of the Safety Act, there is no Standard applicable to this type of device.

With regard to your final question, we do not generally provide advice about the authority of other Federal agencies. However, if it is not considered motor vehicle equipment under the Safety Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission may have requirements governing such a device. It is also possible the Food and Drug Administration might consider it to be a medical device subject to that agency's regulation. In addition, some States may choose to regulate such devices. I am enclosing an information sheet which describes the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards program, and how to get copies of the standards and any other NHTSA regulation. If you have further questions, please contact this office.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel

Enclosure

ref:VSA

d:6/5/90

1990

ID: 2512y

Open

Mr. Hiroshi Ozeki
Executive Vice President
Mazda Research & Development
of North America, Inc.
1203 Woodridge Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Dear Mr. Oseki:

This is in reply to your letter of April 10, l990, with respect to the use of the hazard warning system concurrently with the stop lamps to provide additional warning to vehicles to the rear. You enclosed two interpretations of the agency which appear to be conflicting, and you have asked for a clarification.

In our letter of June 16, l983, we informed Safety Alert Company that its flashing deceleration warning system could operate through any rear lighting system that Standard No. l08 allows to be used for signalling purposes, such as the turn signal or hazard warning system, provided that the color of light or photometrics required by the standard was not changed. However, in our letter of December 8, 1986, we informed Flxible Corporation that their flashing deceleration warning system was unacceptable under Standard No. l08 because "simultaneous use of flashing (amber) and steady-burning lamps have the potential for creating confusion in vehicles to the rear of the bus, and impairing the effectiveness of the required stop lamps within the meaning of S4.1.3."

We do not believe that there is a conflict. The system described in the Safety Alert letter would utilize a vehicle's original lighting equipment that is intended to flash, and that the motoring public is accustomed to seeing flash. The system described in the Flxible letter, on the other hand, would employ a series of new lamps, not required by the standard but supplemental to the required lighting equipment, and whose presence and function would be unfamiliar to motorists following. Thus, that unfamiliar system, if flashing, could have a confusing effect, as we stated in our l986 letter.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for you.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel ref:l08 d:6/5/90

1990

ID: 2513y

Open

Mr. J. A. Schurger
Vehicle Improvement Products, Inc.
l5l S. Ram Road
Antioch, IL 60002-l937

Dear Mr. Schurger:

This responds to your request for an interpretation of Standard No. l0l, Controls and Displays. We apologize for the delay in responding to your letter. You described a proposed design for heavy trucks in which a "switch package" would be located in the center of the steering wheel, along the center spokes. The switch package would include controls for the horn, turn signals, cruise control, headlights (master lighting switch), marker lamps, hazard warning signal and high beam. You noted that Standard No. l0l requires the identification of certain controls to be "perceptually upright," and asked whether identifying symbols which rotate along with the steering wheel would be considered to meet this requirement. As discussed below, it is our opinion that such identification would not be considered to be perceptually upright to the driver.

By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that its motor vehicles or equipment comply with applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.

Section S5.2.l of Standard No. l0l requires certain vehicle controls to be identified by specified symbols or words and for the identification to be placed on or adjacent to the control. That section also requires that "(t)he identification shall, under the conditions of S6, be visible to the driver and, except as provided in S5.2.l.l and S5.2.l.2, appear to the driver perceptually upright." The identification of several of the controls that you propose to locate on the steering would be subject to the "perceptually upright" requirement.

Under your proposed design, the identification of controls would rotate along with the steering wheel. The identification would not be perceptually upright to the driver except when the steering wheel is in a centered position. Since rotation of the steering wheel is a necessary and routine part of driving, the identification would often not be perceptually upright to the driver. It is therefore our opinion that identification of controls that rotate with the steering wheel would not be considered perceptually upright to the driver. We note that there is no provision in Standard No. l0l that limits the "perceptually upright" requirement to conditions where the steering wheel is centered.

This interpretation is consistent with past agency practice. In a July l984 notice establishing a requirement to identify the horn control with a specified symbol, NHTSA addressed commenter concerns about how Standard No. l0l's requirement that identification be perceptually upright might apply to horn controls located on the steering wheel. 49 FR 30l9l, 30l94; July 27, l984. The commenters noted that it is impossible for such horn symbols to be perceptually upright at all times. In response to the comments, the agency included a provision that the horn symbol need be perceptually upright only when the vehicle, aligned to the manufacturer's specification, has its wheels positioned for the vehicle to travel straight forward, i.e., when the steering wheel is centered. It would not have been necessary for the agency to establish this special provision for horn symbols if identification of controls located on the steering wheel was considered to be perceptually upright in the absence of such provision. (We note that NHTSA later decided to drop the perceptually upright requirement for the horn symbol. However, that decision does not affect the above analysis.)

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel ref:l0l d:6/6/90

1990

Request an Interpretation

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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.

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