The basic structural differences between the American vehicle regulatory system and the UN (formerly “European”) system are widely known on an academic level: the US and Canada have self-certification instead of type-approval. There’s no conformity-of-production provision in the American regulations; the requirements are absolute pass/fail limits. And noncompliance in the American system won’t lead to suspension of a homologation, but it could bring a recall and remediation mandated by NHTSA or Transport Canada. DVN has scrutinised these differences from various theoretical angles.
But what do these differences mean on a practical level? It’s not obvious, especially for companies and industries not yet experienced in working within the American system. This week we analyse a recent ruling by NHTSA: General Motors asked the agency to consider safety-neutral a technical noncompliance in the lighting systems of some recent vehicles. NHTSA said no, and their treatment of GM’s arguments presents an informative picture of how US regulators regard, apply, and enforce the provisions, requirements, and prohibitions of US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108. We look at the history and technical and philosophical reasoning behind some of the lesser-discussed requirements of the regulation, and their broad implications for all those designing, specifying, engineering, manufacturing, installing, and selling vehicle lighting equipment in the North American market.
GM didn’t mean to build noncompliant lighting systems; it was a limited error of the type that inevitably occurs eventually in even the most carefully controlled production of vehicles and equipment. As recalls and repairs go, the one GM will have to do as a result of NHTSA’s decision is relatively minor. But as with traffic crashes, so with recalls: the best one is the one that doesn’t happen. Understanding how American regulators treat and apply the rules can help not only in avoiding a recall, but also can bring our attention to aspects of vehicle lighting system design and construction that might warrant new kinds of attention as technology’s speed of progress exceeds that of regulatory evolution.
Daniel Stern, DVN General Editor