By Daniel Stern, General Editor
NHTSA, the US agency in charge of devising, promulgating, and enforcing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, have denied General Motors' petition to avoid having to recall about 110,000 cars with turn signal systems that don't fully comply with FMVSS 108. What might seem like a fairly mundane matter actually, once unpacked, contains a great deal worth comment with regard to the structure, function, and nature of vehicle lighting regulations. NHTSA's comprehensive response to GM's petition can be read online; this DVN analysis looks at the reasoning by both sides and its upshots and ramifications for the greater vehicle lighting community.
In the American auto safety regulatory system, the manufacturer or importer of a regulated vehicle component is entirely responsible for the certification and assurance of its compliance with applicable regulations. These don't work on a homologation basis, so there's no conformity-of-production system and no type approval to revoke if something goes awry with the design or construction of a regulated system or device on a vehicle. Instead, NHTSA and/or Transport Canada can force the recall and remediation of noncompliances. But before that happens, the maker or importer may petition the agency for a finding of "inconsequential noncompliance"—that is, a finding that the noncompliance does not materially affect safety. Such findings have been made when, for example, the lens markings on a headlamp don't include the bulb type as required by MVSS 108, but only the correct type of bulb will fit in the headlamp.