Mr. Robert Listou
3440 South Jefferson Street
Falls Church, VA 22041
Dear Mr. Listou:
Thank you for your letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asking about NHTSA’s requirements for a trailer and hitch design you invented and for which, you state, you have submitted a provisional patent. Senator Mark R. Warner has also contacted us on your behalf. I am pleased to respond.
You state in your letter that you have invented a concept for “a trailer designed for hauling household trash” that residents in rural areas can use to carry trash to a designated location. According to your letter, the product would be a collapsible trailer and hitch designed with portability in mind. The trailer folds for storage in a passenger vehicle’s trunk, and the hitch is configured in a way that would allow it to be “temporarily installed in the trunk of any vehicle” by bracing against the trunk’s contours. You ask whether your invention would comply with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs).
By way of background, NHTSA is authorized by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (“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. Manufacturers are also responsible for ensuring that their products are free of safety-related defects.
Since NHTSA does not approve products, we are not in a position to determine for you the FMVSSs that would apply to your product and whether your product would comply. The responsibility to assure compliance would rest with the manufacturer of the product.
However, we are able to discuss generally portions of the Safety Act and the FMVSSs that are particularly relevant to your invention. In doing so, though, we note that our answers are limited by the breadth of your question and the limited description of the trailer and hitch in your letter. Further, we emphasize the person manufacturing your collapsible trailer and hitch is responsible for ensuring compliance of the product with all applicable FMVSSs. Our answer is based on our understanding of the facts based on the information you provided.
“Trailer” is defined in our regulations (49 C.F.R. §571.3) as “a motor vehicle with or without motive power, designed for carrying persons or property and for being drawn by another motor vehicle.” We believe that the item described in your provisional patent is a trailer under NHTSA regulations, as it is designed for carrying persons or property and for being drawn by another motor vehicle.
Our regulations require trailers to meet certain FMVSSs, such as those for lighting (FMVSS No. 108), tires, braking systems, brake hoses and brake fluids. There are also procedural requirements for their manufacturer, such as requirements for certifying the trailer’s compliance with the FMVSSs.
In addition, if your product is installed in a new or used motor vehicle, you need to take into consideration the “make inoperative” provision of the Safety Act, which states that: “A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, 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 in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter.”
The “make inoperative” prohibition requires the entities listed in §30122 to not knowingly remove, disconnect, or degrade the performance of safety equipment installed in compliance with an applicable FMVSS. For example, if an entity were to install this trailer or hitch in a new or used vehicle, it would need to ensure that its installation does not make inoperative the vehicle’s compliance with the lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment requirements of FMVSS No. 108.
Please note also 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 operation of a trailer and hitch such as yours. We suggest you contact State and local officials for information on possible requirements applying to your product.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please contact my office.
Director, Governmental Affairs,
Policy and Strategic Planning
cc: Washington Office
Ref: Standard No. 108 and 49 U.S.C. 30122
 49 U.S.C. §30122.