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Reg Week®: CRE Regulatory Action of the Week

CRE is interested in receiving your views as to whether this constitutes regulatory overkill.

NHTSA Denies GM Application for Exemption of Noncompliance for Headlamps

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has denied an application from General Motors Corporation that would have exempted it from remedying certain headlamps on 1999 Buick Century and Buick Regal models that do not meet certain photometric standards. GM sought this exemption on the basis that the noncompliance is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety.

Between October 1998 and June 1999, GM manufactured 201,472 Buick Century and Buick Regal model automobiles, some of whose headlamps do not meet the photometric requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment", for test points above the horizontal. Such illumination is intended for overhead signs.

Upon determining that certain headlamps did not meet the photometric requirements, GM notified NHTSA of the noncompliance. GM also decided to evaluate the noncompliance by randomly collecting 10 pairs of lamps from production and testing them. Based on their test results GM believed that the noncomplying results were related to manufacturing variations and were present in only a portion of the lamps. Thus, GM applied for exemption from the notification and remedy requirements of this noncompliance on the basis that it was inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. GM supported its application with the following statements:

The test points at issue are all above the horizon and are intended to measure illumination of overhead signs. They do not represent areas of the beam that illuminate the road surface, and the headlamps still fulfill applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 requirements regarding road illumination.

For years the rule of thumb has been that a 25 percent difference in light intensity is not significant to most people for certain lighting conditions.

GM has not received any complaints from owners of the subject vehicles about their ability to see overhead signs.

GM is not aware of any accidents, injuries, owner complaints or field reports related to this condition for these vehicles.

NHTSA received only one public comment regarding GM's application. The comments were submitted by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety who strongly opposed NHTSA accepting GM's application for exemption.

In describing their reasons for denying GM's application, NHTSA refers to the amendment of FMVSS No. 108 on January 12, 1993 which added minimum photometric requirements for headlamps for illumination of overhead signs. NHTSA writes:

In setting these minima, the agency expected the industry to design its headlamps to ensure that production variability would not result in noncompliances. GM's own compliance tests show failures that are as much as 24.4 percent below the required minima. Each of the ten headlamps GM tested had noncomplying test points, with all but two having failures that were greater than 14.1 percent below the minimum requirement. This testing indicates that there may be a serious flaw in the design and/or production of these lamps.

Due to NHTSA's denial of their application, GM must proceed with notification and remedy requirements as required by statute.

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