Ms. S. Trinkl
DEKRA Automobil GmbH
Senftenberger Straβe 30
Dear Ms. Trinkl:
This responds to your October 10, 2004, letter in which you requested information on how your company may obtain approval as a "DOT-registered test laboratory" in order to conduct testing for vehicles and automotive components, such as glazing materials, destined for the U.S. market. The short answer is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not approve independent testing facilities, and there is no requirement that testing laboratories meet specific standards. Instead, our regulations require manufacturers to self-certify that their products meet the requirements of all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs). Because testing laboratories, in practice, may play a role in this process, we would take this opportunity to further explain our certification process for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment.
By way of background, NHTSA is authorized to issue FMVSSs that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment. For example, one of those standards is FMVSS No. 205, Glazing Materials (49 CFR 571.205), which specifies performance requirements for various types of glazing. Unlike in Europe, however, the United States does not have an approval process for these products. Instead, as noted above, a manufacturer of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment must self-certify that its products comply with all applicable safety standards, prior to offering such products for sale.
Each of our safety standards specifies the test conditions and procedures that NHTSA will use to evaluate the performance of the vehicle or equipment when testing for compliance with that particular standard. NHTSA follows each of the specified test procedures and conditions in effect at the time of product certification when conducting its compliance testing. However, a manufacturer is not required to test its products only in the manner specified in the relevant safety standard, or even to test the products at all. A manufacturer may choose any means of evaluating its products to determine whether the vehicle or item of equipment complies with the requirements of the safety standards (including submission to a testing laboratory), provided that the manufacturer assures that the vehicle or equipment will comply with the safety standards when tested by the agency according to the procedures specified in the standard. The requirements concerning certification may be found at 49 CFR Part 567, Certification.
A manufacturer may be asked to show the basis for its certification that the vehicle or equipment complies with the relevant safety standard(s). If in fact there is a noncompliance, the manufacturer will have to recall the product to bring it into compliance at no charge to the customer.
In addition, the manufacturer will be subject to civil penalties under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, unless it can establish that it exercised "reasonable care" in the design and manufacture of the product and in the evaluation (through actual testing, computer simulation, engineering analyses, or other means) to ensure compliance, but nevertheless did not have reason to know that the vehicle or item of equipment did not in fact comply with the safety standards. This agency has long held that it is unable to judge what efforts would constitute "reasonable care" in advance of the actual circumstances in which a noncompliance occurs. What constitutes "reasonable care" in a particular case depends on all relevant facts, including such things as the limitations of current technology, the availability of test equipment, the size of the manufacturer, and, above all, the diligence exercised by the manufacturer. While one element of "reasonable care" would be the use of appropriate testing laboratories, there is no explicit requirement that testing laboratories be used or that they meet specific standards. Again, NHTSA does not approve independent testing facilities, nor will it recommend any particular testing center be utilized.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Eric Stas of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.