NHTSA Announces Streamlined Process for Reviewing Motor Vehicle Safety Exemptions

December 20, 2018

NHTSA issued a final rule Tuesday to streamline the process for considering automakers’ petitions for exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) and federal bumper rules, saying it will help make the review process faster as automated vehicle technologies continue to evolve.

Currently, when an automaker petitions NHTSA for an exemption from FMVSS (which includes everything from air brake systems to side impact protection) or bumper rules (which prescribes performance requirements for passenger cars in low-speed front and rear collisions), the agency must first determine that the petition is complete—that it provides sufficient information for the agency to determine whether to grant or deny the exemption.

Once NHTSA determines the petition is complete, the agency publishes a notice in the Federal Register summarizing the petition and inviting public comment on whether it should be granted or denied. NHTSA then considers the petition and public comments to determine whether the petition contains adequate justification for the exemption.

Under the new rule, the agency will no longer determine whether the petition is complete before publishing the notice. It will still determine whether the petition contains adequate justification in deciding whether to grant or deny the petition.

The agency said that particularly for complex petitions, the difficulty in separating those two considerations—whether the petition is “complete” and whether it provides “adequate justification”—leads to delays in processing petitions. The new rule, it says, will make the review process faster by eliminating that first decision point.

“This rule improves both the efficiency and transparency of the process to focus on the safety review,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi R. King in a statement announcing the final rule.

The rule comes as automakers are starting to petition for exemptions specific to the deployment of automated vehicles (AVs): General Motors filed a petition in January seeking an exemption to use fully automated vehicles as part of a ride-sharing fleet it plans to deploy in 2019.

The agency’s press release points out that existing FMVSS were developed when all vehicles had a human driver and before the introduction of AV technologies. If the new rule is in response to the emergence of AVs, that would seem to indicate that the agency expects to get more exemption petitions as more companies start deploying AVs and wants to get them in front of the public more rapidly.

Indeed, the rule states that “the intended effect of these changes is to enable the Agency to solicit public comments more quickly.”

Also on Tuesday, USDOT announced it is seeking public comment on the use and integration of Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communications technologies in the transportation environment. It specifically wants comments on the use of alternative and emerging communications technologies to support V2X and the challenges associated with achieving interoperability while accommodating technological change. (Read ETW’s point-counterpoint on using 5G vs. DSRC for connected vehicle technology here.)

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