What are the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)?

October 25, 2021

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Key Takeaways

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) establish minimum performance requirements for manufacturers and the equipment used to make vehicles. These safety standards ensure that purchased vehicles are designed with driver and passenger safety in mind and manufactured with trustworthy equipment. Learn more about FMVSS and what the standards include.

What are the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)?

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are prescriptive U.S. federal regulations specifying design, construction, performance, and durability requirements for motor vehicles. The safety standards establish minimum performance requirements for manufacturers and the equipment used to make a vehicle. In turn, this helps minimize risks of death or injury and prevents accidents caused by faulty equipment from occurring.

FMVSS are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), part of the Department of Transportation (DOT). The FMVSS are the U.S. counterpart to United Nations regulations developed by the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. Canada has their own system of rules called the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS), which overlap some with FMVSS content and structure.

What are the different FMVSS safety categories?

The FMVSS sets requirements for safety-related components, systems, and design features. These can range from fuel systems to brake hoses to head restraints. While the first regulation was enacted in 1967, requirements are periodically updated for stringency.

The safety standards are divided into three categories: crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and post-crash survivability. 

Crash avoidance standards

The crash avoidance standards include:

  • Controls and displays in the vehicle

  • Transmission system

  • Windshield defrosting, windshield wiping, defogging systems, and washing systems

  • Brake systems (air brake systems, motorcycle brakes, electric brake systems)

  • Lamps and reflective devices (rearview mirrors, side mirrors)

  • Tires and rims (tire selection, tire pressure monitoring systems)

  • Warning devices 

  • Theft protection

  • Hood latch system

  • Accelerator control systems

  • Power-operated window, partition, and roof panel systems

  • Electronic stability control systems

Crashworthiness

The crashworthiness standards covers:

  • Occupant crash protection in interior impact

  • Head restraints

  • Door locks and door retention 

  • Steering control systems

  • Impact protection (side impact protection, airbags, rear impact protection)

  • Seating systems

  • Seat belt assemblies and anchorages

  • Windshield mounting, glazing materials, windshield zone intrusion

  • Child restraint systems

  • Roof crush resistance

  • Bus and school bus protections (rollover protection, body joint strength)

Post-crash survivability

The post-crash survivability standards span:

  • Fuel system integrity

  • Flammability of interior materials

  • Compressed natural gas fuel container integrity

  • Electric-powered vehicles

There are also miscellaneous regulations on interior trunk release, platform lift systems, and low-speed vehicles.

Why are FMVSS regulations important?

FMVSS regulations apply to all motor vehicles and regulated motor vehicle equipment manufactured for sale in the U.S., with some exceptions. These safety standards ensure that purchased vehicles are designed with driver and passenger safety in mind and manufactured with trustworthy equipment.

While the FMVSS establishes minimum safety standards, many manufacturers exceed the standards to enhance the safety and comfort of their vehicles. Advanced safety features like pedestrian detection systems and lane departure warnings are found in luxury cars. Manufacturers can bring these features to market as long as no regulations are preventing them from doing so.

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