Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

When beginning to evaluate a potential automotive product liability case, a good place to start is with the applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are regulations published by the United States Government for motor vehicles related to design, construction and performance. The purpose of these standards is to insure “that the public is protected against unreasonable risk of crashes occurring as a result of the design, construction or performance of motor vehicles and is also protected against unreasonable risk of death or injury in the event crashes do occur. “ The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency of the federal government that is responsible for enforcing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

During the 1960s Congress held public hearings regarding highway safety. Out of these hearings came legislation that eventually created NHTSA. The FMVSS, which had already begun to be written and published, beginning with a requirement for the installation of seat belts, fell under the preview of NHTSA. In addition to enforcing the FMFSS, NHTSA has also, from time to time, conducted investigations into safety related issues with motor vehicles, including the ford explorer rollover problem and the Toyota sticky accelerator problem.

The federal safety standards are minimum safety performance requirements. These can form the basis for a thorough investigation and evaluation of a potential crashworthiness case. The regulations themselves are found at 49 C. F. R. 571. These safety regulations address crash avoidance (the 100 series), crashworthiness (200-series), and post-crash survivability (300-series).

Examples of some of the safety standards are as follows: Standard No. 105- Hydraulic and electric brake systems. This standard specifies requirements for hydraulic and electric brake systems to ensure safe braking performance under normal and emergency conditions. Standard 118- Power-operated window, partition, and roof panel system. This standard sets requirements for power operated windows and panels to minimize the likelihood of death or injury from their accidental operation. Standard No. 201-Occupant Protection in Interior Impact. The purpose of this standard is to specify requirements to provide head impact protection for occupants. Standard No. 202- Head Restraints. This standard publishes requirements for head restraints to reduce frequency and severity of neck injuries in rear-end and other collisions. Standard No. 205-Glazing Materials. The purpose of this standard is to minimize the possibility of occupants being thrown through the vehicle windows in collisions. Standard No. 208- Occupant Crash Protection. The purpose of this standard is to reduce the number of fatalities and to reduce the severity of injuries in head on collisions. This is a standard that has resulted in the inclusion of air bags on passenger vehicles. Standard No. 209-Seat Belt Assemblies. This standard sets the requirements for straps, webbing and other components involved in seat belt assembly. Standard No. 216- Roof Crush Resistance. This applies to requirements to prevent roof crush that might come into the passenger compartment thus injuring or killing the passengers. Standard No. 301-Fuel System Integrity. The obvious purpose of this standard is to reduce death and injuries due to post death collision fuel fed fires.

These are just a few of the safety standards that are contained in the FMVSS. The attorneys at Jinks, Crow and Dickson have an in-depth knowledge of the development and purpose of these regulations and use this knowledge on a very frequent basis to evaluate, prosecute and conclude cases involving defective motor vehicles. The first safety standard ever published required cars to have seat belts. In today’s cars the seat belts are an integral part of the occupant restraint system. This particular safety standard was published for a reason. Seat belts save lives. Never drive without wearing your seat belt.

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