Janet Lee

Janet Lee
Photo:Janet Lee, injured by a taxi partition.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

September 19th 2005 answer from Stephen P. Wood, Acting Chief Counsel, USDOT NHTSA

Mr. Steven Crowell
P.O. Box 303
Eastham, MA 02642-03 03


400 Seventh St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Mr. Crowell:
This responds to your letter concerning the permissibility of installing partitions between the front and rear seats in police vehicles. You ask whether installing a steel safety cage would be considered a violation of the “make inoperative” provision of $30122 of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. $30101 et seq.).

From our records of interpretations we have issued in the past, we see that you are familiar with this agency’s requirements and have inquired into this area before. (NHTSA wrote you about this subject on September 13, 1985. A copy of our previous letter to you is enclosed.)

Our basic requirements have not significantly changed since our earlier letter to you. The “render inoperative” provision of 15 U.S.C. §108(a)(2)(A) was recodified as 49 U.S.C. $30122, but no substantive change was made to the provision.

As explained in our earlier letter, the entities listed in $30122 must not knowingly make inoperative the compliance of vehicles with any Federal motor vehicle safety standard. The make inoperative provision does not apply to individual owners who modify their own vehicles. Thus, a police department may modify its own vehicles without regard to 530101.

As a general matter, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to alter their vehicles in a manner that degrades the overall safety of the vehicle. I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please contact us.

Stephen P. Wood

Acting Chief Counsel USDOT NHTSA

There is no complaint about owners modifying their own vehicles. The USDOT knows very well that the complaint is about the alterers of motor vehicles before the first delivery to the first purchaser. The USDOT is deliberately changing the topic from 'alterer alterations' to 'owner alterations'. It is not the 'end user - first purchaser' making alterations when MHQ installs a police cruiser partition.
MHQ may be in violation of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety act  of 1966  (The Act) ( 15 USC 1381 et. Seq.) by the manner in which they are installing partitions in police cruisers.
            Section lO8(a)(2)(A) of the Act prohibits manufacturers, distributors dealers of  motor vehicle repair businesses from rendering 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 . . ."  Section 109 provides for civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation of section 106 not to exceed $800,000 for any related series of violations.

The USDOT needs to communicate with all 50 state motor vehicle registry offices bringing them up to speed on federal compliance in partition inspections.
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