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Motor Vehicles Hazards Archive | Introduction | Regulation Established
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Regulation Established

In 1966, with the backing of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress unanimously enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Public Law 89-563, as amended), which created a limited federal authority to regulate the safety of new motor vehicles. A companion statute, the National Highway Safety Act (Public Law 89-564), expanded the scope of federal activity in support of state and local efforts to improve highway and driver contributions to the reduction of vehicle crash injuries.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act is administered by the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Its intent, as described by President Johnson at its signing, is to ensure that every new car is as safe as modern knowledge can make it. Whether that intent has been achieved is arguable, but there is no doubt that the Act has somewhat reduced motor vehicle hazards. The Act requires the federal government to do the following:

  • Set Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for New Motor Vehicles and Equipment. The standards may specify minimum performance levels but not specific designs. For instance, a standard may set the minimum forces that a seatback must withstand in an impact, but it may not specify the design of seatbacks. Manufacturers self-certify their compliance with the standards. NHTSA spot-checks by buying and testing randomly-selected vehicles.
  • Require Manufacturers to Recall and Repair Vehicles and Equipment with Safety Defects. Failure to comply with safety standards can result in vehicle safety defects and injurious hazards. In addition, vehicle hazards can result from defects beyond the scope of the standards, such as seat belts that meet the minimum standard requirements but nonetheless become unbuckled in crashes. The law provides that unless a manufacturer voluntarily recalls and repairs a defective vehicle, NHTSA may move to force the recall.
  • Research and Development. Research, development, testing, crash investigation and data collection and analysis activities related to motor vehicle injuries and hazard reduction are carried out by NHTSA and its contractors in support of the agency's statutory mission.
  • Consumer Information. NHTSA publishes the results of vehicle testing in formats that provide comparative information about vehicle hazard levels. Its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) assigns crashworthiness and rollover proneness ratings to selected new vehicles.

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