Dear Mr. Stevens:
This responds to your letter of October 2, 1992 requesting information on standards applicable to an "after market 3rd rear facing seat for the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable station wagons 1986-1993." During an October 20, 1992 phone conversation with Mary Versailles of my staff you explained that in most instances these seats are sold for installation in used vehicles, by either the owner or by a dealer or repair business. You also stated that the seat might be installed by a dealer prior to the vehicle's sale. Your three questions and the answer to each follows.
Before I address the substance of your letter, I note that your letter requested that the product information enclosed with your letter be treated as confidential. Your request for confidentiality was denied in an October 27, 1992 letter signed by Kathleen DeMeter, our Assistant Chief Counsel for General Law. Accordingly, the product information enclosed with your letter has been placed in NHTSA's public docket, along with your letter and this reply.
1. Does the aftermarket 3rd rear facing station wagon system have to be tested in compliance with FMVSS 207, 209, & 210?
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (the Safety Act; 15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq.) authorizes this agency to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Section 108(a)(1)(A) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(1)(A)) prohibits any person from manufacturing, introducing into commerce, selling, or importing any new motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicle or equipment item is in conformity with all applicable safety standards. NHTSA, however, does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, nor do we endorse any commercial products. Instead, the Safety Act establishes a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards.
NHTSA has exercised its authority to establish five safety standards which could be applicable to a 3rd rear facing vehicle seat: Standard No. 207, Seating Systems, Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies, Standard No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, and Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials.
Standard No. 209 sets forth strength, elongation, webbing width, durability, and other requirements for seat belt assemblies. This standard applies to all seat belt assemblies for use in motor vehicles, regardless of whether the belts are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacements. Hence, any seat belts installed on the 3rd rear facing seat have to be certified as complying with Standard No. 209.
The remaining four standards apply only to new vehicles. If the 3rd rear facing seat were installed before the vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale, the vehicle would have to be certified as complying with all applicable standards, including these four, with the 3rd rear facing seat installed. Standard No. 207 establishes strength and other performance requirements for vehicle seats. Standard No. 208 sets forth requirements for occupant protection at the various seating positions in vehicles. Standard No. 210 establishes strength and location requirements for seat belt anchorages. Finally, Standard No. 302 specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in motor vehicles, specifically including seat cushions, seat backs, and seat belts.
After a vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale; i.e., the first retail sale of the vehicle, the only provision in Federal law that affects a vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable safety standard is set forth in section 108(a)(2)(A) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)(A)). That section provides that:
No manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly render inoperative, in whole or in part, any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle ... in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard.
Any violation of this "render inoperative" prohibition would subject the violator to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. Please note that the "render inoperative" prohibition does not require manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses to certify that vehicles continue to comply with the safety standards after any aftermarket modifications are made. Instead, "render inoperative" prohibits those entities from performing aftermarket modifications that they know or should know will result in the vehicle no longer complying with the safety standards.
Please note also that the "render inoperative" prohibition does not apply to modifications vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, Federal law would not apply in situations where individual vehicle owners install your company's 3rd seat in their own vehicles, even if the installation were to result in the vehicle no longer complying with the safety standards. However, individual States have the authority to regulate modifications that individual vehicle owners may make to their own vehicles.
2. The seat belt anchorages are Ford factory anchorages built into the car at the factory and designed for the Ford factory 3rd seat and seat belts. We will be using the same anchorages with aftermarket seat belts already in compliance. Is a test required for this system?
As noted above, if these 3rd seats are installed in a vehicle prior to the vehicle's first sale for purposes other than resale, the vehicle must be certified as complying with all applicable safety standards with the 3rd seat installed. NHTSA's position on what steps manufacturers must take before certifying that their vehicles or equipment comply with applicable safety standards has been often stated and applies with equal force in your situation. The compliance test procedures set forth in the safety standards must be followed by this agency during our compliance testing. With respect to your company's 3rd seats, this means that NHTSA's compliance testing for the vehicle would be conducted using the test procedures set forth in the relevant safety standard or standards.
Manufacturers certifying compliance with the safety standards are not required to follow exactly the compliance test procedures set forth in the applicable standard. In fact, manufacturers are not required to conduct any actual testing before certifying that their products comply with applicable safety standards. However, to avoid liability for civil penalties if the vehicle were determined not to comply with a safety standard, the Safety Act requires the certifying manufacturer to exercise "due care" to assure compliance and in making its certification. It may be simplest for the manufacturer to establish that it exercised "due care" if the manufacturer has conducted testing that strictly followed the compliance test procedures set forth in the standard. However, "due care" might also be shown by using modified test procedures, engineering analyses, computer simulations, and the like. Thus, the entity that installs your company's 3rd seat in a vehicle prior to the vehicle's first sale will have to decide for itself, in the first instance, what information it needs to make its certification in the exercise of "due care."
If the 3rd seat were installed after the first purchase of the vehicle in good faith for purposes other than resale, no certification would be required. Instead, any manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair shop that performed the installation would have to ensure that the installation did not "render inoperative" compliance with any applicable safety standard. Actual testing is not required to avoid violating the "render inoperative" prohibition. Instead, your company could carefully examine your product and the proposed installation instructions and compare those with the requirements of the safety standards, to determine if installing your product in accordance with your instructions would result in the vehicle no longer complying with the standards.
3. If testing is required, must they be specifically Static Tested or Dynamic Crash Tested?
Testing is required only in agency compliance testing, as explained above. Agency testing must be conducted in accordance with the test procedures specified in the applicable standard. I note, however, that the dynamic crash testing requirement in Standard No. 208 applies only to the front outboard seating positions.
For your information, I have enclosed a sheet for new manufacturers that identifies the basic requirements of our standards and regulations, as well as how to get copies of those standards and regulations. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel Enclosure ref:VSA#207#208#209#210#302 d:11/13/92