6231 McLeod Drive # E
Las Vegas, NV 89120
Dear Mr. Ambar:
This responds to the interpretation request sent to us by Alan Schnitzer, Esq. on your behalf, asking if a scooter you are attempting to import into the United States is a "motor vehicle" for the purposes of the regulations administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As explained below, it is our opinion that the scooter is not a motor vehicle.
The legislation establishing NHTSA’s vehicle safety authority is set out at 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301. Under 49 U.S.C. § 30112, a person may not import into the United States, "any motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment manufactured on or after the date an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter takes effect unless the vehicle or equipment complies with the standard[.]" "Motor vehicle" is defined at 49 U.S.C. § 30102(a)(6) as:
[A] vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line.
When determining if a vehicle is manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads and highways, the agency will first look to see if the vehicle has on-road capabilities.
In an October 3, 1969, notice, the agency determined that while "mini-bikes" have on-road operating capabilities, they are not motor vehicles for the purpose of our standards. (34 Federal Register 15416; enclosed) At that time the agency found that "mini-bikes" were precluded from operation on public roads by a vast majority of States. The agency has determined this to still hold true. Further, "mini-bikes" were at that time promoted and advertised solely for off-road use.
The scooter that you are seeking to import was described as a "toy" intended for off-road use only. The literature submitted stated that the maximum speed of the scooter ranges between 12.5 and 16 miles per hour (mph). The scooter is shown to have an engine displacement of 36 cc, a height of 33 inches, and wheel diameters of ten and nine inches (front and rear, respectively). The owner’s manual and a label on the scooter warn against operating the scooter on public roads.
Based on the description provided, including its speed capabilities and small size, we conclude that the "scooter" you are seeking to import is properly characterized as a "mini-bike," and therefore is not a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of Chapter 301. The scooter’s low speed capability would prohibit it from being operated in normal moving traffic. This is reflected in the warning label. Further, the low sitting height and small wheel diameters are comparable if not smaller than those of the mini-bikes considered under the 1969 notice. While your scooter could theoretically be operated on public roads, we anticipate that because of its small size and absence of a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is generally required by States for vehicles authorized to operate on public roads, incidents of its actual operation on public streets, roads, and highways will be comparatively rare. We recognize that the scooter is equipped with a headlight, horn, turn signals, and a mirror. While this equipment may be seen as equipping the scooter for road use, we note that this equipment is also sometimes present on bicycles and other non-motor vehicles as well.
While we have concluded at this time that the scooter you are seeking to import is not a motor vehicle, we may re-evaluate our determination if we were to receive additional information indicating that the scooter (or similar ones) were being used on public roads on more than an incidental basis, the scooter were to be advertised for use on public roads, or the characteristics of the imported scooters were not consistent with the descriptions provided.
If you have any further questions, please contact Mr. Chris Calamita of my office at (202) 366-2992.