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Temporary Exemption From Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

Temporary Exemption From Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

Donald C. Bischoff
Federal Register
August 23, 1994

[Federal Register: August 23, 1994]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Part 555

[Docket 94-69; Notice 1]

Temporary Exemption From Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice of request for comments.


SUMMARY: This document requests comments on the recommendation by the 
National Performance Review that the number of motor vehicles which may 
be exempted from compliance with the Federal motor vehicle safety 
standards (FMVSSs) on the basis that they possess innovative safety 
features be increased from the 2,500 per year presently specified by 
statute. The recommendation is based on the belief that an increase may 
encourage vehicle manufacturers to seek exemptions allowing them to 
introduce safety innovations.

DATES: The closing date for comments is October 24, 1994.

ADDRESSES: Comments should refer to the docket number and the notice 
number, and be submitted to: Docket Section, room 5109, Nassif 
Building, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590. (Docket hours 
are from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Noble Bowie, Office of Plans and 
Programs, NHTSA (202-366-2549).


Existing Exemption Authority

    NHTSA is directed by 49 U.S.C. 30111 (formerly 15 U.S.C. 1392) to 
issue FMVSSs to reduce the number and severity of vehicle crashes and 
to reduce the likelihood that deaths and injuries will occur in those 
crashes. In recognition of the need to provide exemptions from the 
FMVSSs in special, limited circumstances, NHTSA requested Congress in 
1972 to give it express authority for this purpose. The authority was 
intended to, among other things, permit the agency to grant exemptions 
to permit vehicle manufacturers to allow them to incorporate new safety 
features into their vehicles.
    In response, Congress enacted legislation later that same year to 
authorize the agency to exempt a motor vehicle manufacturer from any 
FMVSS based on any one of four findings. 49 U.S.C. 30113 (formerly 
section 123 of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 15 
U.S.C. 1410). One was a finding that ``the exemption would make easier 
the development or field evaluation of a new motor vehicle safety 
feature providing a safety level at least equal to the safety level of 
the standard.'' Such an exemption may be granted for a period that does 
not exceed two years (subject to renewal). The exemption may not cover 
``more than 2,500 vehicles to be sold in the United States in any 12-
month period''. (49 U.S.C. 30113 (d) and (e)).
    There is scant legislative history regarding the congressional 
intentions underlying this exemption provision.
    A single sentence of explanation appeared in floor statements made 
on October 6, 1972 by Senator Hartke:

    The purpose of this provision is to enable manufacturers to 
experiment with innovative safety concepts but not endanger the 
health and safety of the motoring public.

(See pages S34207-34209)

    In issuing FMVSSs, the agency drafts them to be as performance 
oriented as possible to minimize the need to amend them to accommodate 
future technological advances. If a vehicle manufacturer nevertheless 
finds that a provision of an existing standard has the effect of 
prohibiting a new device, it may petition the agency to amend that 
provision so as to allow the device. At any given time, the agency is 
conducting numerous rulemaking proceedings in response to such 
petitions. In a very few cases since 1972, vehicle manufacturers have 
petitioned for exemption under the provision relating to innovative 
safety features. Indeed, exemption on the grounds of an innovative 
safety feature has been the least frequently used of the four statutory 
bases upon which a manufacturer may submit an exemption petition.

National Performance Review

    This notice responds to a recommendation by The National 
Performance Review (NPR), which was chaired by the Vice President of 
the United States. The NPR reviewed NHTSA's statutes and regulations, 
and recommended in its report, ``From Red Tape to Results,'' that the 
number of vehicles that may be covered by a safety exemption be raised. 
For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with this particular NPR 
recommendation, the agency has set forth below the relevant passages 
from the accompanying Report of the National Performance Review--
September 1993 (pp. 23-24):


    Technology and consumer preferences often change faster than the 
rulemaking process of the National Highway Traffic Safety 
Administration (NHTSA) can move. Today, for example, automotive 
safety is an important concern of consumers. Manufacturers who can 
deliver the safety features their customers want are at a sales 
advantage. Manufacturers, therefore, have a financial incentive for 
investing time and money in new or improved safety features--if they 
thought they could make their way through the NHTSA approval process 
in time to capitalize on the current trends in consumer preference.
    Current enabling legislation and the NHTSA rulemaking processes, 
however, are too encumbering and time consuming to enable NHTSA to 
turn short-term consumer trends into long-term safety advances. The 
cost and time required to assemble the needed justification and the 
average two-year duration of the rulemaking process can inhibit 
manufacturers from introducing safety improvements. As a result, 
consumers have to wait two years or more before improvements reach 
the market.
    Although NHTSA can grant a temporary exemption from standards to 
help advance new safety systems, no more than 2,500 vehicles can be 
sold per year for each exemption granted. This number is too low to 
provide manufacturers with sufficient economic and marketing 
incentives and to allow extensive, real-world evaluations.


    1. Legislation should be enacted to raise the current 2,500-vehicle 
limit on exemptions.

    NHTSA should consider all factors that are relevant to expanding 
the exemption provision into a more effective mechanism for 
encouraging safety innovations. NHTSA should then determine what 
higher exemption authority is desirable and draft legislation for 
submission to Congress at the beginning of the next session (January 
    Legislation should be enacted to authorize NHTSA to grant such 
exemptions after public notice and comment.
    NHTSA should grant exemptions only after it is satisfied that a 
manufacturer will thoroughly evaluate the actual ``on-road'' 
benefits (or problems) of the exempted safety system. NHTSA should 
ensure that the manufacturers carry out the evaluation and help them 
to do this.


    By increasing the vehicle limits, NHTSA will promote cooperation 
between government and industry, motivate industry to introduce new 
safety devices because of the economic advantage of selling 
innovative safety features, enhance support from industry and 
consumers for possible safety improvements, and introduce some 
safety advances to the marketplace sooner than might occur through 
lengthy, costly, and contentious rulemaking.

Fiscal Impact

    Both industry and government will be able to reduce costs 
associated with research and evaluation. NHTSA will also realize a 
reduction in staff resources currently devoted to rulemaking; 
however, the specific fiscal implications will depend on the nature 
and frequency of exemptions and cannot be estimated.

Issues for Public Comment

    In order to assess the need for legislation and to prepare a 
request for it by January 1995, if such is warranted, NHTSA requests 
information that will assist it in identifying ways in which its 
exemption authority could be amended to encourage manufacturers to seek 
exemptions in order to incorporate new safety technologies in 
production vehicles at the earliest time in advance of possible 
amendments of relevant FMVSSs. Two particular concerns underlie the NPR 
report: (1) the minimum size of production runs of new safety features 
necessary to be economically feasible; and (2) the minimum number of 
vehicles required to provide statistically significant data for 
evaluation. Therefore, NHTSA asks vehicle manufacturers to quantify 
these two minima, and explain the basis for their responses. 
Manufacturers and other commenters should submit documents, analyses, 
or other data that are germane to these concerns.
    NHTSA also requests comments on the following issues--
    1. Whether impediments exist, such as liability concerns, that 
discourage vehicle manufacturers from using the exemption process to 
evaluate safety innovations.
    2. The identity of any specific existing or anticipated safety 
innovations whose introduction might be prohibited by an existing or 
proposed FMVSS and for which vehicle manufacturers would apply for 
exemption if the number of vehicles covered were increased, and/or if 
the exemption term were longer.
    3. The level to which the number of exempted vehicles would have to 
be increased and/or the extent to which exemption term would have to be 
lengthened in order to encourage vehicle manufacturers to apply for 
temporary exemptions.
    4. Whether the number of exempted vehicles and/or term should be 
left to the Administrator's discretion, instead of being statutorily 
specified as at present.
    5. Under expanded exemption authority, how the agency should 
assess, in advance of the results of an on-the-road evaluation, the 
likelihood that an innovative safety feature will yield equal or 
superior safety benefits. The agency is mindful of the concern 
expressed in the legislative history that the issuance of exemptions 
for innovative safety features should not endanger the health and 
safety of the motoring public. If the number of vehicles that can be 
covered by in a single exemption is increased, there could be a 
commensurate increase in the potential adverse consequences of an 
erroneous judgment by the agency that an innovative feature will 
provide safety benefits that equal or exceed those of complying 
    6. Whether there are other amendments to NHTSA's existing statutory 
authority, 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301--Motor Vehicle Safety (formerly 15 
U.S.C. 1381 et seq., the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act) 
which would encourage automotive safety innovations without 
compromising safety.
    7. The validity of the assumptions underlying NPR's analysis and 
    It is requested but not required that ten copies of each comment be 
submitted. No comments may exceed 15 (fifteen) pages in length (49 CFR 
553.21). Necessary attachments may be appended to submissions without 
regard to the 15-page limit.
    All comments received before the close of business on the comment 
closing date listed above will be considered and will be available for 
examination in the docket room and the above address both before and 
after that date. To the extent possible, comments filed after the 
closing date will be considered. The agency will continue to file 
relevant information as it becomes available. It is recommended that 
interested persons continue to examine the docket for new material. 
Those commenters desiring to be notified upon receipt of their comments 
by the docket section should include a self-addressed, stamped postcard 
in the envelope with their comments. Upon receipt of their comments, 
the docket supervisor will return the postcard by mail.

    Authority: 49 U.S.C. 30117.

    Issued on: August 16, 1994.
Donald C. Bischoff,
Associate Administrator for Plans and Policy.
[FR Doc. 94-20635 Filed 8-22-94; 8:45 am]

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