Mr. Christopher Palabrica

President

Renewed Performance Company, Inc.

1095 Development Drive

Tipton, IN 46072

 

Dear Mr. Palabrica:

 

This responds to your email requesting an interpretation regarding Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) Nos. 209, Seat belt assemblies, and 210, Seat belt assembly anchorages.  You state that you refurbish fire trucks and, as part of the process, would like to replace the existing Type 2 seat belt assemblies with new Type 2 seat belt assemblies that include “seat belt monitoring systems.”[1]  You ask whether you may install the new seat belt assemblies in the refurbished fire trucks.

 

In your email it was unclear how extensively you refurbish the fire trucks.  In a telephone conversation on August 16, 2016 with Ms. Callie Roach of my staff, you clarified that you are only asking for an interpretation on whether you can use existing anchorages in “used” fire trucks to secure new seat belt assemblies that include seat belt monitoring systems.[2]  The short answer is that our regulations do not prohibit you from installing new seat belt assemblies in used fire trucks.  Such installation is permitted as long as it does not impair the effectiveness of any safety feature installed in compliance with an applicable FMVSS.  Further, the seat belt assemblies must meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 209.

 

General Authority

 

By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized by the Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, to issue FMVSSs that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment.  NHTSA does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment and does not determine whether a product conforms to the FMVSSs outside of an agency compliance proceeding.  Instead, the Safety Act requires manufacturers to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable FMVSSs that are in effect on the date of manufacture.  The following is our interpretation based on our understanding of the facts you provided.

 

Applicable Standards and Requirements

 

There are several standards and requirements that may apply to the installation of new seat belt assemblies.  You specifically reference FMVSS Nos. 209, Seat belt assemblies, and 210, Seat belt assembly anchorages.  NHTSA has also issued FMVSS Nos. 207, Seating systems; 208, Occupant crash protection; and 302, Flammability of interior materials, which may be relevant.  Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and other standards may be relevant to the installation of the seat belt assemblies depending on the extent of the refurbishment.

 

FMVSS Nos. 207, 208, 210, and 302 apply to vehicles on the date of manufacture.  These standards are considered “vehicle” standards that apply to new completed vehicles, as opposed to “equipment” standards that apply to original and aftermarket items of equipment.  (FMVSS No. 209 is an equipment standard, which we will discuss below.)  There is no NHTSA requirement that vehicles continue to meet standards after the vehicle is sold to its first retail purchaser.  

 

However, the Safety Act has a requirement under 49 U.S.C. §30122(b) to safeguard the continued compliance of vehicles and equipment.  Section 30122(b) states:

 

A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, rental company, 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 prescribed under this chapter…

 

The “make inoperative” provision prohibits any listed entity from making modifications to a vehicle or item of equipment which would impair the vehicle’s or equipment’s compliance with any applicable FMVSS.  If a vehicle or equipment is in compliance with an applicable standard, listed entities are prohibited from taking them out of compliance.[3]

 

Discussion

 

In addressing whether you are permitted to install the new seat belt assemblies, there are three areas of concern: the seat belt assembly’s compliance with FMVSS No. 209, the addition of the seat belt warning system, and the “make inoperative” prohibition under 49 U.S.C. §30122(b).  We will address each of these concerns below and explain how they could affect your seat belt assembly installation.

 

FMVSS No. 209

 

FMVSS No. 209 applies to seat belt assemblies as separate items of motor vehicle equipment, regardless of whether the assemblies are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacements.  Section 30112(a) of the Safety Act prohibits any person from manufacturing for sale, introducing into commerce, selling, or importing into the United States any new motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicle or the equipment is in conformity with all applicable safety standards and is certified as being in compliance at the time it was manufactured.  The seat belt assemblies you install must comply with and be certified as meeting FMVSS No. 209. 

 

Addition of the Seat Belt Monitoring System

 

As part of the refurbishing, you state you are installing seat belt assemblies which have seat belt monitoring systems.  From the description provided in your letter, it appears that the seat monitoring systems you would install are similar to the seat belt warning systems referenced in FMVSS No. 208.  FMVSS No. 208 provides requirements for seat belt warning systems that vary by type of vehicle and year of manufacture.  If a seat belt warning system were required for a particular seating position in the vehicles you are refurbishing, the system must continue to meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 208 after completion of your work.  However, if the warning system was not required for a particular seating position and you are adding a seat belt monitoring system now, the system would be considered an additional safety component.  Additional safety components are not required to comply with the provisions of the safety standards, provided that the additional components do not impair the ability of the required safety systems to comply with the safety standards.[4]  For example, the visual display to the driver that you describe (“DO NOT MOVE APPARATUS”) must not interfere with the performance of required visual warnings and displays.

 

 “Make Inoperative” Prohibition

 

Section 30122 prohibits listed entities from knowingly making inoperative a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment’s compliance with applicable FMVSSs, such as by removing, disconnecting, or degrading the performance of a required safety system.  As a refurbisher of fire trucks, you are an entity that must comply with §30122.  It does not appear that your replacing the existing Type 2 seat belt assemblies with new certified Type 2 seat belt assemblies would violate the make inoperative prohibition.  However, when installing the seat belt assemblies, you must ensure that the seat belt assembly is compatible with the existing anchorages and that your work does not degrade the strength of the existing seat belt anchorage system.  Damaging the anchorages could take the vehicle out of compliance with FMVSS No. 210.

 

While you have an obligation not to impair the vehicle’s compliance with applicable FMVSSs, you do not have to actually test the refurbished fire trucks to ensure that compliance is not diminished.  However, you could violate §30122 if you should have known that a device or element of design would be made inoperative by the modification.[5]  In the context of an enforcement proceeding, the agency would assess whether you exercised reasonable judgement in undertaking the modification and reasonable skill in implementing it.

 

You should also be aware that state and local jurisdictions have the authority to set requirements that apply to the use of vehicles and may have regulations applying to the installation of seat belt assemblies.  Further, for information on private tort liability, we suggest you contact your private attorney or insurance carrier.

I hope this information is helpful.  If you have further questions, please contact Ms. Roach at (202) 366-2992.

 

                                                                                    Sincerely,

 

 

 

                                                                                    Stephen P. Wood

Acting Chief Counsel

 

Dated: 1/19/17

Ref: Standard Nos. 207, 208, 209, 210 and VSA Section 30122



[1] Under FMVSS No. 209 S3, Definitions, a Type 2 seat belt assembly is “a combination of pelvic and upper torso restraints.”  

[2] In the August 16, 2016 telephone call, you explained that the refurbishing sometimes requires replacing the chassis.  Under our regulations, if the refurbishing involves sufficient manufacturing operations, such as replacing the chassis, the truck will be considered “new” as opposed to “used” and must meet the requirements under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, the National Traffic and Motor Safety Act (Safety Act).  The Safety Act requires the manufacturer (or refurbisher, in refurbishments resulting in “new” vehicles) to certify that the new vehicle meets all FMVSSs in effect on the date of manufacture of the new vehicle.  You indicated that you understood the requirement that new trucks meet the current standards.

 

[3]Under the Vehicle Safety Act, NHTSA has the authority to make exemptions to the make inoperative prohibition (see 49 CFR Part 595).

[4] See, e.g. letter to Ford Motor Company, http://isearch.nhtsa.gov/gm/79/nht79-3.38.html, March 1, 1979.

[5] See, e.g. letter to Alan Nappier, http://isearch.nhtsa.gov/files/30122%20-%20Make%20inoperative%20-%20Alan%20Nappier%20april%2014.htm, April 17, 2015.