As part of its mission to prevent and reduce vehicle crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Safety Compliance (OVSC) sets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to improve traffic safety. FMVSS provide performance and regulatory requirements for manufacturers of motor vehicles and vehicle safety components, such as seatbelts. Given the importance to the traveling public that all vehicles and components meet Federal safety standards, we initiated this audit to assess NHTSA’s efforts to set and enforce FMVSS.
What We Found
While NHTSA has established policies and procedures for evaluating FMVSS and safety-related motor vehicle standards, the Agency is limited in its ability to update, set, and enforce these standards in a timely manner. First, NHTSA has faced significant delays in processing rulemaking petitions to modify or set new FMVSS, which may put the Agency in noncompliance with Federal regulations. For example, the Agency did not respond within the required 120-day timeline to 87.5 percent of FMVSS petitions submitted between March 2016 and December 2020. Second, NHTSA lacks formal training and clear guidance for enforcing compliance with FMVSS. For example, NHTSA’s OVSC lacks documented standard procedures and training for reviewing contractors’ compliance test reports and has not implemented guidance for conducting compliance investigations. Third, NHTSA is not meeting requirements for ensuring imported vehicles meet FMVSS. NHTSA’s OVSC requires Registered Importers to submit conformity packages detailing safety modifications made to comply with FMVSS. However, NHTSA lacks a standard process for reviewing these packages, increasing the risk of unsafe vehicles operating on U.S. roads.
NHTSA concurred with our six recommendations to strengthen its oversight of FMVSS to comply with Federal requirements. We consider recommendations 1 through 6 resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.
No. 1 to NHTSA
Update the existing written procedure for acting on rulemaking petitions to meet the required 120-day timeline.
No. 2 to NHTSA
Develop and implement a written process for reviewing compance test reports.
No. 3 to NHTSA
Develop and implement a training curriculum process for Safety Compliance Engineers.
No. 4 to NHTSA
Implement and communicate guidance on conducting compliance investigations.
No. 5 to NHTSA
Develop and implement a targeted process for reviewing and prioritizing conformity packages to meet the required 30-day timeframe.
No. 6 to NHTSA
Finalize and implement the Import and Certification Division's process to monitor and investigate Registered Importers' compliance with Federal regulations.