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Applicability of NHTSA FMVSS Test Procedures

The American authority NHTSA recently clarified a controversy about the applicability of NHTSA FMVSS Test Procedures to manufacturers. 

The NHTSA published a notice in which it explained that the FMVSS test procedures apply only to NHTSA’s compliance testing, and manufacturers are not required to ensure that their vehicles are designed in such a manner as to ensure that the vehicles are capable of being tested pursuant to such standards as a condition of self-certification. 

Basically, in the USA the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act requires that motor vehicles meet two separate requirements before they may be sold or otherwise introduced into interstate commerce in the United States: 

(1) they must be compliant with the FMVSS, and 

(2) they must be certified as compliant by a manufacturer “exercising reasonable care”. 

However, vehicle manufacturers are not required to test a vehicle’s performance using the test conditions and procedures in an FMVSS to certify compliance with a standard.  Rather, these test procedures simply establish how NHTSA itself would evaluate compliance with an applicable FMVSS.  In other words, manufacturers are free to use other methods to certify the compliance of their products, provided that their vehicles meet the standards when NHTSA tests the vehicles using the procedures, and under the conditions specified in the FMVSS. 

The clarification of this issue became necessary after a letter of interpretation sent by NHTSA to Google, Inc. in 2016, in which it stated that “manufacturers could not validly certify vehicles as compliant with FMVSS unless the vehicles were capable of being tested using the test procedures associated with those standards”.  This interpretation imposed major design restrictions on motor vehicles, because it effectively required manufacturers not only to certify that a motor vehicle complies with the requirements of all applicable FMVSS, but also to design it in such a way that NHTSA would be able to conduct each element of each test procedure specified within each applicable regulation. 

If you want to find out more about the background of the NTHSA notice and about the FMVSS, do not hesitate to contact the EFS Automotive Regulatory and Product Compliance Team. 

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