Dear Mr. Selander:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 114, Theft Protection, in connection with an electronic locking ignition system that you are developing. You asked whether an electronic code, which would be entered into the locking system by the vehicle operator to permit operation of the system, would be included within the standard's definition of "key." As discussed below, the answer to your question is yes.
By way of background information, 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 vehicles and equipment comply with applicable requirements. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.
You described the operation of your planned locking ignition system as follows. When an electronic code is entered into the locking system by the operator, a match is made with an electronic code stored in the system's memory. When the correct match occurs, the operator may move the locking system out of the "lock" position to other positions such as "accessory", "off," "on", or "start", in order to activate the vehicle's engine, motor, or accessories.
You also stated that, with the locking system out of the "lock" position, the transmission can be shifted out of the "park" position in order to operate the vehicle. The transmission shift lever must be returned to the "park" position before the locking system may be put back into the "lock" position. Placement of the locking system back into the "lock" position would automatically cause removal of the electronic code from the system. At that time, re-entry of the electronic code would be necessary to operate the vehicle. Section S4.2 of Standard No. 114 requires each vehicle to have a key-locking system that, whenever the key is removed, will prevent-- (a) normal activation of the vehicle's engine or other main source of motive power; and
(b) either steering, or forward self-mobility, or both.
The term "key" is defined in S3 of the standard to include "any other device designed and constructed to provide a method for operating a locking system which is designed and constructed to be operated by that device." We agree that an electronic code which is entered into a locking ignition system by the vehicle operator to permit operation of the system comes within this definition.
For GM's planned system, removal of the key would occur when the locking system is placed back into the "lock" position by the operator, since the electronic code is automatically removed from the system at that time and the vehicle will not operate unless the code is re-entered. Therefore, under section S4.2, placement of the locking system back into the "lock" position (i.e., removal of the key) must prevent normal activation of the vehicle's engine and either steering, or forward self-mobility, or both.
We note that section S4.5 of Standard No. 114 requires (except under limited specified circumstances) a warning to the driver to be activated whenever the key required by section S4.2 has been left in the locking system and the driver's door is opened. For GM's planned system, activation of the warning would be required (other than under the limited specified circumstances) if a driver opened the door without placing the locking system back into the "lock" position, since the electronic code (key) would remain in the locking system in that situation.
Standard No. 114 also has several other requirements related to keys. Of particular note is one set forth in a new section S4.2.1, which takes effect on September 1, 1992. Under that section, the key-locking system required by S4.2 in each vehicle which has an automatic transmission with a "park" position must (except under limited specified circumstances) prevent removal of the key unless the transmission or transmission shift lever is locked in "park" or becomes locked in "park" as the direct result of removing the key.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any additional questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel