Janet Lee

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

US Department Of Transportation - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

US Department
Of Transportation

National Highway
Traffic Safety

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

JUN 2 2 1984
NEF- 32GSh
Mr. Steven W. Crowell
35 Pinckney Street
Boston, MA 02114

Dear Mr. Crowell:

Thank you for the information regarding the installation of partitions in taxi cabs and police cruisers.  As was discussed with you in a three-way telephone conversation, which included Mr. George Shifflett and myself on June 8, 1984, we have been looking into the matter since we received your letter.

A copy of our letter to those alterers that you listed is enclosed.  As explained in the conversation, the only provable violations at this. time, based on information that you have supplied, is the removal of restraint Systems under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No  208 and Improper glazing material being sold in violation of FMVSS No. 205.  Proof of a violation of the others would require testing by the Government. Because of our limited testing budget, the number of vehicles involved, and the controversial trade-off of occupant safety for the safety of the vehicle operator from assailants, we have no plans to test the involved vehicles for violations of other FMVSS to which you refer.  We are also enclosing a copy of our letter to Captain Cadegan regarding the subject. We do not anticipate any further action by this office at this time unless we find continuing violations after those involved have received our letter.

In your letter of January 17, 1984, you state that you have been told that --you must obtain a manufacturers identification code number for your partition.  It Is regretted that you have been misinformed.  The prime glazing material manufacturer of the material used in your partition must obtain the manufacturers code number.  It is not necessary for you to obtain a number.  The markings required by FMVSS No. 205 must be on the material when it is sold.

Francis Armstrong
Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance Enforcement

This letter informs the violator (sanctioning agency - BPDHD) the identity of the whistle-blower, Steven W. Crowell.
It also suggests that a “recommendation of consideration of compliance” is all that is needed.
The BPDHD informed the two notified ‘Boston’ partition makers it was Steven W. Crowell who caused the problem about the removal of seat belts and head restraints.

US Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration
400 Seventh Street. S. W.  Washington, D.C.  20590

JUN 22 1984

Captain Arthur C. Cadegan
Inspector of Carriages
Boston Police Department, Hackney Division
154 Berkeley Street
Boston, MA 02116

Dear Captain Cadegan:
This is in regards to telephone conversations you have had with George Shlfflett, a member of my staff, having to do with Steven W. Crowell and his complaint that partitions are being installed in Boston Police cruisers and taxi cabs, that violate Federal law.
We are enclosing a copy of a letter and a listing of those to whom it is being sent explaining their responsibilities.
It is our understanding that when the partition is installed, the front restraint systems (seat belts and/or upper torso restraints) are removed. Although it is conceded that it is not a violation of Federal law to operate the vehicles without restraint systems, it is recommended that consideration be given to requiring the systems as part of your taxi inspection program.

Thank you very much for your cooperation.

Francis Armstrong

Bow Street Auto and Pallin Automotive both proceeded to re-install belts when cabs had been suddenly and for the first time rejected at taxi inspection. Those two makers charged the cab owners a ‘ransom’ for the re-installation of the belts. They also made sure that when the expense was complained about, the cab owners were told it was Steven W. Crowell that should be addressed about this matter.

Subsequently, I was approached, numerous times, by angry cab owners complaining that I was the reason for the expense of safety violation corrections.

The seat belts were re-installed in an unsafe manner. The webbing of the belts were anchored with a sheet metal screw into plastic moulding on the “B” pillar. No head restraints were re-installed. Head restraint retention was phased-in at the next cab inspection, by rejecting cabs without head restraints, requiring all cab owners to purchase a new partition with a different configuration. Sub-standard Lexan was substituted by Marguard at the third inspection.

This was all done sequentially at city cab inspection over an 18 month period. I endured three waves of complaints and threats from cab owners, all as a result of the USDOT NHTSA identifying me to a violator.

I told cab owners to go to the attorney general, none did.


This letter (an official letter of warning) was sent to two Boston partition makers and one New York partition maker. It clarifies the applicability of federal standards to partitions.

Document 1                letter to manufacturers (Setina not notified)

JUNE, 22 1984


Bow Street Automotive
96 Bow Street
Everett, MA 02149

Dear Sir:

            It has come to the attention of this office that you 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 you are installing partitions in taxicabs and or 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 installation of the partition could affect the vehicle's conformity to the following Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards;

1.  FMVSS  No. 111, "Rearview Mirrors"
2.  FMVSS  No. 201, "Occupant Protection in Interior Impact"
3.  FMVSS  No. 203, "Occupant Crash Protection"

Vehicles must have a lap and shoulder belt assembly (Type 2) at both outboard seating positions. The removal of the required restraint systems is an obvious violation of the Act.

Section 108 of the Act also prohibits the sale or introduction into interstate commerce of any item of motor vehicle equipment unless it is in conformity with applicable FMVSS. The plastic material used in the partition must meet FMVSS No.205, "Glazing Materials," which includes requirements for certain markings.

The sale or introduction into interstate commerce of a noncomplying item of automotive equipment constitutes a separate violation of the Act which may also lead to civil penalties.

            If you add a partition to a new vehicle prior to sale to the first purchaser for purposes other than resale (user), you must add a certification label in accordance with Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 567 (49 CFR 567).

The following documents are enclosed:
1.         The Act
2.         49 CFR 567, "Certification"
3.         FMVSS No. 111, "Rearview Mirrors"
4.         FMVSS No. 201, "Occupant Protection in Interior Impact"
5.         FMVSS No. 208, "Occupant Crash Protection"
6.         FMVSS No. 205, "Glazing Materials," with pertinent excerpts from Z26.l as referenced in the standard.
If you have any questions please refer them to George Shifflett, a member of my staff, at 202-426-1693.

Francis Armstrong
Director Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance Enforcement
6 Enclosures

US Department
Of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety
400 Seventh Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
SEP I 3 1985
Mr. Steven W. Crowell
29 Mansfield Street
Allston, MA  02134
Dear Mr. Crowell:
Thank you for your March 8, 1985 letter to Mr. Stephen Oesch of this office asking several questions concerning the Federal motor vehicle safety standards issued by this agency.  I sincerely regret the delay in responding to your letter; however, I hope the following discussion will be of assistance to you.
You first asked whether our safety standards apply to auxiliary interior equipment installed in motor vehicles.  The answer is yes.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Act authorizes this agency to issue safety standards for new motor vehicles and equipment (§103), prohibits the sale or manufacture of new vehicles and equipment which do not meet those standards (§108(a)(1)(A)), establishes civil penalties for non-complying vehicles and equipment (§109(a)), and requires manufacturers to recall and remedy any non-compliances (§154(a)).   A copy of the Act is enclosed for your information.
In addition, the Act requires certification of compliance with applicable safety standards (§114).  This requirement applies to manufacturers of equipment, with regard to those items of equipment, and to vehicle manufacturers, with regard to the entire vehicle.  Thus, if auxiliary interior equipment is installed in a vehicle prior to first sale, the equipment manufacturer must certify compliance with any safety standards applicable to the item of equipment, and the vehicle manufacturer must certify that the entire vehicle (including items of equipment) complies with all applicable standards.
You also asked specifically about the applicability of certain safety standards to interior partitions:  Standard No. 107, Reflecting Surfaces, No. 111, Rearview Mirrors, No. 201, Occupant Protection in Interior Impact (dashboards and seatbacks), No. 205, glazing Materials (windows), and No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (safety belts and other restraint systems). Only Standard No. 205 directly applies to interior partitions.  However a vehicle manufacturer must certify that its vehicles comply with applicable safety standards, even if an interior partition or other auxiliary equipment is installed.  For example, Standard No. 111 requires that a rearview mirror provide a minimum field of view for a driver.  If the rearview mirror does not provide that field of view (due to an interior partition or any other reason), the Standard requires an outside rearview mirror.  Each
Page 2
safety standard describes the types of vehicles and equipment systems to which it applies; copies of Standards No. 107, 111, 201, 205 and 208 are also enclosed for your information.
The safety standards apply to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment, and the responsibility for assuring compliance rests with the manufacturer.  However, the Act also includes some restrictions on vehicle modifications after the first sale to a consumer.   Under §108(a)(2)(A) of the Act, a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not "render inoperative" any device or element of design installed in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard. Thus, modification of a vehicle by such a person must not render any safety feature inoperative.   The owner or other user of a motor vehicle, however, may modify the vehicle without concern about possibly violating a Federal safety standard because the "render inoperative" provision does not apply to such users.   State law should always be considered before modification, however, because it may limit the alteration of a vehicle by its owner or other users.
You also ask whether the Act and our safety standards apply to various types of vehicles and ownership's.  The Federal safety standards apply to all new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment that are introduced into commerce in the United States.  All the types of vehicles you mention, such as taxicabs, police cruisers, and utility vans, are within the Act's definition of "motor vehicle" (§102(3)), so they are subject to all applicable safety standards.  As discussed above, each safety standard sets forth the types of vehicles to which it applies.  There is no exception for the manufacture of vehicles for government or commercial use.  Also, as discussed above, the user of a vehicle, such as an owner or lessee, may personally modify his or her vehicle without violating Federal law, but users should check State law.
You also inquired, in cases whether the Act and safety standards do not apply, as to who might be liable for personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of interior partitions.  As noted above, the Act applies to all new motor vehicles, so each new vehicle is required to comply with all applicable safety standards.   However, the Act does not govern liability questions, regardless of whether a safety standard does or does not apply to a given vehicle or item of equipment.  Liability issues are governed by State tort law; you may wish to consult with a local attorney to discuss the liability laws in your State.
In addition, you asked how the preemption provision of the Act, (§103(d)) would affect a State motor vehicle inspection law requiring safety belt retention for passenger cars, but not for commercial vehicles.  That preemption provision prohibits any state safety standards for vehicles or items of vehicle equipment, which are not identical to Federal safety standards covering the same aspect of performance.  While that provision would not apply to the situation you describe -- since there is no Federal safety standard requiring the retention of safety belts -- the restrictions in the Act on subsequent vehicle modifications (§10B(a)(2)(A), discussed above) would apply.  Since safety belts are required items of motor vehicle equipment under Standard No. 208, the statutory provision would prohibit certain commercial enterprises from removing those belts,
whether from passenger cars or from commercial vehicles.  Thus, no State law could legalize the removal by such businesses of federally required safety belts, since such a law would conflict with §108(a)(2)(A) of the Act.  Of course, State law may require the retention of safety belts for any or all classes of motor vehicles.
Finally, you asked whether prohibiting motor vehicles from interstate commerce would effectively avoid the requirements of the Vehicle Safety Act.  Such prohibition would not affect a manufacturer's obligation under the Act to certify the vehicle and assure compliance with all applicable safety standards.  The Act is not limited to vehicles which are actually used in interstate commerce (i.e., those that cross State lines).  Instead, it requires compliance with safety standards for all new vehicles and items of vehicle equipment which are manufactured,  sold or introduced in interstate commerce (§108(a)(1)(A)).  In our view, that provision indicates Congress' intent to cover all new motor vehicles.  As a practical matter, it is extremely unlikely that any vehicle would never be in interstate commerce at some time during its lifetime.  For example, the delivery of the vehicle from its place of manufacture to its original place of sale will generally involve movement in interstate commerce. Also, a manufacturer has no way of knowing where its vehicles may subsequently be used. In addition, whether or not the vehicles are actually used in interstate commerce, their subsequent use on public roads substantially affects interstate commerce and therefore is subject to Federal law.
I hope these answers are helpful. We appreciate your interest in State safety belt use legislation, and again I apologize for the delay in responding. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or Mr. Oesh of my office (202-426-2992)   safety belt responding.
contact me or
Jeffrey R. Miller
Chief Counsel

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