NHTSA Interpretation File Search
Understanding NHTSA’s Online Interpretation Files
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Searching NHTSA’s Online Interpretation Files
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Example: Headl* AND (supplement* OR auxiliary OR impair*)
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NHTSA's Interpretation Files Search
Ms. Betsy Dittemore
Dear Ms. Dittemore:
Thank you for your letter regarding a bill introduced in the Iowa Senate that, among other features, would establish light transmittance limits for "sunscreening devices" that may be applied to the windows of motor vehicles operated in Iowa. I apologize for the delay in this response. You requested our office's interpretation about whether provisions of this bill would violate or be preempted by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205, Glazing Materials (49 CFR 571.205).
As you are aware, this agency is authorized by section 103 of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1392) to issue safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and certain items of motor vehicle equipment. One of the standards that we have issued under this authority is Standard No. 205, which applies to all new vehicles and all new glazing materials for use in motor vehicles. Among the requirements set forth in Standard No. 205 are specifications for minimum levels of light transmittance (70 percent light transmittance in areas requisite for driving visibility, which includes all windows in passenger cars).
Section 108(a)(1)(A) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(1)(A)) specifies that no person may manufacture, import, or sell any vehicle in the United States unless it is in conformity with all applicable safety standards. Pursuant to section 108(b)(1) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(b)(1)), this prohibition no longer applies after the vehicle is sold to a consumer. However, both before and after the first sale, section 108(a)(2) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)) provides that "No manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly render inoperative, in whole or part, any device or element of design installed on or in a notor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard . . . ."
In the case of windows on a passenger car, this provision of Federal law means that no manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or repair business could install window tinting film that would result in a light transmittance of less than 70 percent for any window of the car, because such action would "render inoperative" the vehicle's compliance with Standard No. 205. This same provision of Federal law prohibits a service station from permanently removing safety belts or permanently disconnecting brake lines on motor vehicles.
Please note that the Safety Act does not apply to the actions of vehicle owners. Vehicle owners may alter their own vehicles and operate them on the highways as they please, even if the vehicle's windows no longer comply with the requirements of Standard No. 205. Hence, no provision of a Federal statute or this agency's regulations prevents individual vehicle owners themselves from tinting the windows on their vehicles.
The individual States, however, have the authority to regulate the modifications that vehicle owners may make to their own vehicles and to establish requirements for vehicles operated or registered in that State. The Iowa Senate bill enclosed with your letter appears to be an attempted exercise of this inherent authority.
You asked for comments on whether this bill, if adopted as law in Iowa, would be preempted by Standard No. 205. I assume you were referring to the provision in this Iowa bill that would prohibit the operation of motor vehicles required to be registered in the State of Iowa if the vehicle has a "sunscreening device" on the front side windows with light transmittance of less than 35 percent or on the rear window and side windows behind the driver with light transmittance of less than 20 percent. Since the original glazing on the vehicle could have had light transmittance of as little as 70 percent, this provision would permit overall light transmittance levels of as low as 25 percent for the front side windows and 14 percent for the rear windows.
This provision in the Iowa bill, and similar provisions in statutes adopted by other States, does not purport to legitimize conduct -- the rendering inoperative of glazing by firms installing window tinting -- that is illegal under Federal law. In other words, firms installing window tinting that results in light transmittance of less than 70 percent on any window of a passenger car would have violated the "render inoperative" provision in Federal law, even if Iowa had in place a statute that would permit persons to operate and register vehicles whose windows had light transmittance that was far lower. Conversely, the Federal law setting requirements for the manufacture and sale of new vehicles and limiting the modifications commercial enterprises can make to those vehicles does not prohibit the State of Iowa from establishing lesser limits on owner modifications to their own vehicles and as the minimum requirements for vehicles to be operated and registered in the State of Iowa.
Thus, there does not appear to be any legal conflict between Federal law and this Iowa bill, and Iowa would be free to enforce the provisions of this bill if it is enacted into law. We would, however, urge the State of Iowa to carefully consider the adverse safety consequences that would result from enacting this bill into law. NHTSA has determined that a 70 percent light transmittance minimum for new vehicles is the appropriate level to assure motor vehicle safety. Your letter indicated that Iowa had also adopted this 70 percent light transmittance minimum as a State requirement for new vehicles. It is not clear why the State of Iowa would conclude that the safety need that justifies requiring not less than 70 percent light transmittance in new vehicles is satisfied by allowing light transmittance levels as low as 25 and 14 percent in vehicles to be operated in the State.
I hope that this information is helpful. If you have any further questions or need additional information about this topic, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel
Mr. Koji Tokunaga
Dear Mr. Tokunaga:
This responds to your letter asking about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. l0l, Controls and Displays, as amended by a final rule published in the FEDERAL REGISTER (52 FR 3244) on February 3, l987. We apologize for the delay in our response. You described a proposed design for a radio and asked whether the requirements of section S5.3.5 would apply to the source of illumination for the radio and, if so, whether your design would meet those requirements. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.
As discussed below, the requirements of section S5.3.5 would apply to the source of illumination for your planned radio. Your current design would meet the requirements of that section.
You described your planned radio as follows:
In the case of the radio to be installed on our vehicle, radio display is automatically illuminated when radio switch is turned "on." Likewise, when the switch is turned "off," this display is automatically extinguished. This illumination is a single intensity, but the intensity is not "barely discernible to a driver who has adapted to dark ambient roadway conditions."
The current language of section S5.3.5, which reflects an amendment made by a final rule published in the FEDERAL REGISTER (52 FR 334l6) on September 3, l987, is as follows:
S5.3.5 Any source of illumination within the passenger compartment which is forward of a transverse vertical plane 4.35 inch (ll0.6 mm) rearward of the manikin "H" point with the driver's seat in its rearmost driving position, which is not used for the controls and displays regulated by this standard, which is not a telltale, and which is capable of being illuminated while the vehicle is in motion, shall have either (l) light intensity which is manually or automatically adjustable to provide at least two levels of brightness, (2) a single intensity that is barely discernible to a driver who has adapted to dark ambient roadway conditions, or (3) a means of being turned off. This requirement does not apply to buses that are normally operated with the passenger compartment illuminated.
The first issue raised by your letter is whether section S5.3.5 would apply to your proposed design. The answer to that question is yes. You suggested that the section might not apply, since "display illumination turns 'on' or 'off' simultaneously with the 'on' or 'off' operation of radio switch irrespective of vehicle motion." However, section S5.3.5's limitation of applicability to sources of illumination which are "capable of being illuminated while the vehicle is in motion" does not refer to illuminations which are provided only when the vehicle is in motion but instead incorporates all sources of illumination which are "capable" of being illuminated while the vehicle is in motion.
The second issue raised by your letter is whether your proposed design meets the requirements of section S5.3.5. You suggested that the "off" switch of the radio would be "a means of being turned off," under that section. We agree with your suggested interpretation. Section S5.3.5 requires that the "source of illumination" have either (l) light intensity which is manually or automatically adjustable to provide at least two levels of brightness, (2) a single intensity that is barely discernible to a driver who has adapted to dark ambient roadway conditions, or (3) a means of being turned off. As discussed in the preamble to the February 3, l987 final rule, the purpose of providing section S5.3.5's three options was to meet concerns raised by commenters, while maintaining essential limits on glare. Although a driver may use the radio while driving at night, he or she will have the means to remove the radio as a source of glare by turning the radio off. In our view, this meets section S5.3.5's third option.
Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel ref:101 d:1/7/88
Mr. William Waltz
Dear Mr. Waltz:
This is in reply to your letter of April 12, l990, stating that Wagner Division "would like to petition N.H.T.S.A. for a 'Determination of Inconsequentiality' for non-compliance."
Specifically, Wagner wishes to manufacture round sealed beam headlamps (not "bulbs" as you call it) for Lectric Limited, a small parts business geared towards the antique automobile hobby. The headlamps are intended for use on "antique automobiles". We understand that term to mean any automobile manufactured in l940 and subsequent model years that was originally equipped with round sealed beam headlamps. Although the headlamps would be designed to conform to current specifications, those of SAE Standard J579c, the word "top" would be used on the 7-inch diameter headlamp instead of the designation "2CI" (you mean "2D1"), the numeral "1" for "1C1" on the single beam 5 3/4-inch diameter headlamp, and the numeral "2" for "2C1" on the dual beam 5 3/4-inch diameter headlamp. The lamps would not bear "DOT" identification. Lectric Limited is willing to "ink stamp" DOT, 2Dl, 1C1, and 2C1 "on either the face and or the rear" of each headlamp so that they would not be mistaken for those conforming to SAE J579a, and to print instructions for purchasers explaining the difference. Lectric Limited is also willing to insure that the headlamps are marketed only through antique auto specialty retailers.
First, let me explain that your request cannot be considered as one for a determination of inconsequentiality. These determinations are made after-the-fact in order to determine whether a manufacturer must fulfill statutory obligations which include replacement, repurchase, or repair of the already-manufactured noncompliant product. What you seek is permission to produce motor vehicle equipment that fails to comply with labeling requirements. Unfortunately, the agency has no exemption provisions which can address this issue. We have authority to exempt manufacturers of motor vehicles from compliance for a temporary period, but we have no authority to exempt manufacturers of motor vehicle equipment, on either a temporary or permanent basis. Further, we cannot waive the marking requirements of sections S7.2 and S7.3 of Standard No. l08, even for the limited purpose and subject to the restrictions you discuss.
After due consideration of the matter, we believe that you have no choice other than to conform to the marking requirements of Standard No. l08. Although neither the marking nor the performance of J579c headlamps replicates that of J579a headlamps, I hope that auto enthusiasts will be willing to accept the marking that goes with the improved performance.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel ref:l08 d:7/25/90
Art Look, Marketing Executive
Dear Mr. Look:
Your letter of October 30, 1987, addressed to Administrator Diane Steed, was referred to me for reply. You are apparently seeking this Department's approval of your product which you describe as a new warning device for stopped motor vehicles. As explained below, we do not provide approvals for products.
Your product is made of inflatable plastic material that you describe as "flexible and extremely durable." When a user inflates your device, the product takes the shape of a cone standing about 18" high. The pictures you enclose indicate that the inflatable part of the cone has three broad alternating stripes. Two of the stripes are orange, and a 6" "reflective" white stripe is sandwiched between them. Your cone sits on a non-inflatable, spherical, black base filled with "approximately" 3 lbs. of sand.
You state that your device has many advantages over the warning device currently specified in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 125, Warning Devices. Among the advantages you list are that your device is "more visible at night, up to 1,000 ft. away;" that it "(is) not affected by winds up to 50 MPH;" and that if struck, it "will return to an upright position" without damaging the vehicle involved. You state your company's intention to package your device in a corrugated container with three inflatable cones to a kit, including both a "new-type double-action hand pump" and instructions for proper use of your device.
Let me begin with some general information about this agency. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an agency of the Department of Transportation, and has authority under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (the Safety Act) to issue safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and certain items of motor vehicle equipment. However, NHTSA does not approve nor certify motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, or endorse any commercial product. Instead, the Safety Act establishes a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is required to certify that its products meet all applicable safety standards issued by this agency. Periodically, NHTSA conducts tests to determine whether vehicles or equipment comply with these standards, and may investigate alleged safety-related product defects.
One of the safety standards issued by this agency is Standard 125, Warning Devices, which sets uniform performance requirements for certain devices that are designed to be carried in a motor vehicle and used when needed to warn approaching traffic when the vehicle is disabled and stopped in or by the side of the road. The Standard applies to any such device that does not have a self-contained energy source (such as a battery). Your product falls under this Standard. Thus, it must meet the requirements of Standard 125, such as those on configuration, color, and reflectivity. Failure to comply with a standard renders the manufacturer subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation and a maximum penalty of $800,000 for a series of violations. In addition, the Safety Act requires a manufacturer to recall and remedy or replace a noncomplying item of motor vehicle equipment.
As the above discussion suggests, you do not need approval from NHTSA or any other agency in the Department of Transportation to market your product. However, you do need both to ensure that your product meets Standard 125's requirements and to certify compliance. Our preliminary review of your product indicates that you may not be able to make that certification. For example, it appears that your product may not comply with the color, reflectivity, configuration, and stability requirements of Standard 125. If your product fails to meet these or other Standard 125 requirements, you cannot legally market it as a warning device.
I hope you find this response helpful.
Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel
Enclosure ref:125 d:1/4/88
Mr. Wayne Brush Director, Material Management Conceptor Industries, Inc. 521 Newpark Blvd. P. O. Box 149 Newmarket, Ontario Canada L3Y 4X7
Dear Mr. Brush:
Thank you for your letter to Mr. Clive Van Orden of our Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance seeking an interpretation of this agency's requirements for a vehicle identification number (VIN), as set forth in 49 CFR Part 565, Vehicle Identification Number - Content Requirements, and Standard No. 115, Vehicle Identification Number - Basic Requirements (49 CFR 571.115). You stated that your company plans to modify vans manufactured by General Motors (GM) to produce electric powered vehicles for sale in the United States. You asked whether these vehicles may use the GM world manufacturer identifier (WMI), as well as a check digit, model year identification, and production sequence codes assigned by GM, and use an X as the engine type code to show that the vehicles were actually manufactured by your company. As explained below, the answer to your question is no.
S4.1 of Standard No. 115 reads as follows:
Each vehicle manufactured in one stage shall have a VIN that is assigned by the manufacturer. Each vehicle manufactured in more than one stage shall have a VIN assigned by the incomplete vehicle manufacturer. Vehicle alterers, as specified in 49 CFR 567.7, shall utilize the VIN assigned by the original manufacturer of the vehicle.
As described in your letter, Conceptor Industries plans to produce completed electric powered vehicles by using an assemblage of motor vehicle equipment produced by GM, including frame and chassis structure, steering, suspension, and braking systems. However, the assemblage provided to your company by GM would not include a power train. The absence of a power train means that this assemblage would not be an "incomplete vehicle," as that term is defined in S3 of Standard No. 115, so the Conceptor electric vehicles would not be considered to be manufactured in more than one stage. Your company would not qualify as a vehicle alterer, based on the information provided in your letter, because GM would not have already certified the vehicles modified by your company. Thus, the electric powered vehicles produced by Conceptor would be considered to be vehicles manufactured in one stage, and the VIN for these vehicles would have to be assigned by Conceptor, the manufacturer of these vehicles.
Part 565 specifies the format and content of the VIN that Standard No. 115 requires your company to assign to its electric powered vehicles. In relevant part, 49 CFR 565.4 provides that:
The VIN shall consist of four sections of characters which shall be grouped accordingly: (a) The first section shall consist of three characters which occupy positions one through three (1-3) in the VIN, This section shall uniquely identify the manufacturer, make and type of the motor vehicle if its manufacturer produces 500 or more motor vehicles of its type annually. If the manufacturer produces less than 500 motor vehicles of its type annually, those three characters, along with the third, fourth, and fifth characters of the fourth section shall uniquely identify the manufacturer, make and type of the motor vehicle. * * *
Under the approach suggested in your letter, GM would be identified as the manufacturer of the vehicle by the first three characters of the VIN, and the eighth character would indicate that Conceptor was the actual manufacturer. This approach would be plainly inconsistent with the requirements of 565.4 quoted above, because the regulation requires the first three characters in the VIN to identify the vehicle manufacturer. Your company is the manufacturer of these vehicles, not GM, so your company must be identified by the first three characters of the VIN. Furthermore, 565.4(b) provides that the eighth character in the VIN shall uniquely identify specified attributes of the vehicle, not identify the manufacturer. Hence, the approach suggested in your letter would not comply with this agency's VIN requirements.
Additionally, you informed Dorothy Nakama of my staff in a July 3, 1990 telelphone conversation that, at least in the initial years of your company's production of these vehicles, the annual production will be less than 500. If this is the case, you should note that 565.4(a) requires your company to use not only the first three characters of the VIN to uniquely identify the manufacturer, make and type of the motor vehicle, but also the 12th, 13th, and 14th characters of the VIN as well to make this unique identification.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions or need any additional information, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel /ref:565#115 d:7/25/90
Mr. Toshio Maeda
Dear Mr. Maeda:
This is in reply to your letter of June 30, 1987, asking for an interpretation of paragraph S220.127.116.11(b)(3) of Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. l08.
That paragraph specifies in pertinent part that a replaceable bulb headlamp shall be designed to conform to Section 6.1-Aiming Adjustment Test, of SAE Standard J580 AUG79 Sealed Beam Headlamp Assembly. Section 6.1.1 states that "when the headlamp assembly is tested in the laboratory, a minimum aiming adjustment of +/-4 deg. shall be provided in both the vertical and horizontal planes." You have asked whether the aiming adjustment is to be achieved by the headlamp assembly, or by both the headlamp assembly "and by the headlamp when it is mounted on the vehicle."
SAE J580 applies to the design of headlamp assemblies, including the functional parts other than the headlamps, such as aiming and mounting mechanisms and hardware. The assembly may include one or more headlamps. Although the headlamp assembly is tested in the laboratory, its design must be identical to the headlamp assembly used on the vehicle. Thus, if the aiming adjustment requirement is met by the headlamp assembly in the laboratory, it should also be met when the assembly is installed on the vehicle. An individual headlamp installed on the vehicle need not meet the aiming adjustment test unless that headlamp is part of a headlamp assembly comprising only one headlamp.
I hope that this answers your question.
Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel ref:l08 d:1/14/88
Mr. Ron Boucher
Dear Mr. Boucher:
Thank you for your letter asking whether the products you plan to market would comply with the laws and regulations administered by this agency. As explained below, the laws and regulations administered by this agency would not be applicable to these products.
Enclosed with your letter were two brochures describing the "Signal Flash" personal identification lights. The brochure included pictures and descriptions of several different types of battery-powered lights that are small enough to be carried on one's person, and include straps that make them suitable to be carried on one's arm, around one's wrist, or inserted into a life preserver. The brochures describe these "Signal Flash" lights as suitable for use in "diving, mountaineering, jogging, sailing, windsurfing, cycling, fishing, car breakdown, life jacket, etc."
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (the Safety Act) authorizes this agency to regulate "motor vehicles" and items of "motor vehicle equipment." Section 102(4) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1391(4)) defines "motor vehicle equipment", in part, 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...
Your "Signal Flash" lights are plainly not a "system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured," nor are they a "similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement" of an original equipment part of a motor vehicle. The issue is whether these lights would be considered an "accessory" within the meaning of the Safety Act. In determining whether an item of equipment is considered an "accessory," the agency applies the relevant statutory language and the two following criteria: first, whether a substantial portion of the expected uses of the item are related to the operation or maintenance of motor vehicles, and second, whether the item is intended to be used principally by ordinary users of motor vehicles.
In evaluating the first criterion, the product literature enclosed with your letter emphasizes the versatility of these personal identification lights. While these lights occasionally may be used in connection with a motor vehicle breakdown or repair, most of the suggested uses involve sports activities that have nothing to do with a motor vehicle. Thus, a substantial portion of the expected uses of the light would not appear related to the operation or maintenance of a vehicle, so these "Signal Flash" lights would not be considered items of "motor vehicle equipment." This conclusion means that the "Signal Flash" lights are not subject to any of the laws and regulations administered by this agency.
You may wish to consult the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to learn if they have any requirements applicable to these lights. That agency protects the public against unreasonable risks of injury from consumer products. You may write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 5401 Westbard Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20207, or contact them by telephone at (301) 492-6580.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions or need any additional information, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel
/ ref:VSA d:7/27/90
Mr. Billy S. Peterson
Dear Mr. Peterson:
This is in reply to your letter of September 23, 1987, with respect to positioning of rear mounted lamps and reflectors in accordance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. l08. Your client has designed a vehicle in which the backup lamps and rear reflex reflectors would be mounted on the deck lid, and you have asked whether there are any current or contemplated prohibitions that would preclude this design.
The lamps in question will be mounted on a rigid part of the vehicle as required by paragraph S4.3.1 of Standard No. l08, and the deck lid will be closed and the lamps and reflectors in full view under normal operating conditions. The visibility requirements of lamps and reflectors in Standard No. l08 are predicated on the normal driving or closed deck lid position. Since the use of motor vehicles, including driving with deck lids open or otherwise having the lamps and reflectors obscured by a particular load on the vehicle is under the jurisdiction of the individual States, we do not anticipate rulemaking on this subject. Thus this design is not prohibited by Standard No. l08.
Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel ref:l08 d:1/28/88
C.D. Black, Engineering Manager
Dear Ms. Black:
This is in reply to your letters of June 8 and October l7, 1987, with respect to an electrically-operated headlamp leveling system that Jaguar intends to offer on passenger cars beginning with the l989 model year. Such a device is required by EEC regulations. You have informed us that the system does not allow lamps to be adjusted above the "zero" position, only downward to compensate for rear end loading of the vehicle. There is no provision for automatic return to the "zero" position when the engine is turned off. Further, there will be no indication to the driver from the vehicle instrumentation that re-aim is necessary when the headlamps are adjusted downward. You have concluded, for the six reasons given in your letter of June 8 that "no aspect of FMVSS l08 . . . is contravened by this proposed installation."
The sole restriction that Standard No. l08 imposes upon an item of motor vehicle equipment not covered by the standard but which a manufacturer wishes to add to a vehicle as original equipment is that it not impair the effectiveness of the lighting equipment that the standard requires (S4.l.3). If a manufacturer concludes that the unrequired equipment would not impair the effectiveness of the required lighting equipment, it may certify that the vehicle complies with Standard No. 108. Based on our understanding of your system, it does not appear to impair the effectiveness of the required equipment. However, we urge you to consider the possible consequences if the driver forgets to return the system to the "zero" position from either of the two adjustment positions. These possibilities are a concern because the system does not automatically return to that position, and no warning is provided to the driver that the headlamps are not in their original design position. On the other hand, if properly used, the system could enhance headlighting effectiveness by ensuring that the headlamp provides the same lighting performance under all conditions of vehicle load.
We hope the information is helpful.
Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel ref:l08 d:2/11/88
Mr. Edgar G. Meyer
Dear Mr. Meyer:
This responds to your November 24, l987 letter asking about the applicability of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials, to the manufacture of automobile seat cushions and seat backs. Specifically, you asked whether it would be permissible if the fabric (i.e., felt) from which the seat cushions and seat backs would be manufactured were made from "old clothes and rags." Standard No. 302 neither specifies nor prohibits any particular type of raw material used to manufacture seat backs and seat cushions. The felt must meet the flammability requirements of the standard if it is used for cushions and seat backs for new motor vehicles. Also, felt used to manufacture seat cushions and seat backs for new and used motor vehicles must contain no safety related defects.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and NHTSA regulations require manufacturers of new motor vehicles to certify that their vehicles comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards, including Standard No. 302. Standard No. 302 specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used to manufacture seat cushions and seat backs on new passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses. Thus, any person manufacturing a new vehicle with seat backs and seat cushions made from the felt material you described must ensure that the seat backs and cushions possess the burn resistance characteristics required by Standard No. 302. If the felt can meet those requirements, it may be used in new motor vehicles in satisfaction of Standard No. 302, regardless of the felt's raw materials.
The felt manufacturer should also be aware that the Vehicle Safety Act requires all vehicle and equipment manufacturers to ensure that their products contain no defects relating to motor vehicle safety. If it were determined by the manufacturer or this agency that the seat cushions and seat backs had a safety related defect, all purchasers of the vehicle containing the defective equipment would have to be notified and the defective item repaired or replaced without charge. If the felt material is used to manufacture items of motor vehicle equipment that are sold to vehicle owners for use in used vehicles (i.e., vehicles previously purchased in good faith for purposes other than resale), the felt need not meet Standard No. 302. In general, it would not violate Standard No. 302 to add aftermarket seat cushions to used vehicles, even if the addition of the seat cushions caused the vehicles to no longer comply with the standard.
This general rule is, however, limited by the application of the provisions of section l08(a)(2)(A) of the Safety Act. That section specifies: "No manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly render inoperative ... 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 ..." The flammability resistance of the original vehicle is an element of design installed in a motor vehicle in compliance with Standard No. 302. Thus, any person in the aforementioned categories that installed a seat cushion which did not comply with the flammability resistance requirements of Standard No. 302 would be rendering inoperative that element of design, and thereby violating a section l08(a)(2)(A). Section l09 of the Act specifies a civil penalty of up to $l,000 for each violation of section l08.
Again, the manufacturer of the aftermarket seat cushions would be obligated to recall and remedy cushions that are determined to contain a safety related defect, even if the cushions were installed by the vehicle owners themselves.
You asked about other Federal laws that might have a bearing on the manufacture of the felt material. You might wish to contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at (202) 523-8148 and the Environmental Protection Agency at (202) 475-8040 for information about the applicability of any of their statutes and regulations.
Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel ref:302 d:1/1/88
Request an Interpretation
You may email your request to Interpretations.NHTSA@dot.gov 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.