Court Rules Against NTEA Appeal of NHTSA's New Roof Crush Standards

The Sixth Circuit Court ruled against NTEA's challenge of of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new roof crush standards.

The Sixth Circuit Court last week disagreed with the NTEA’s appeal to a recent rulemaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on new roof crush standards. The NTEA’s challenge was based on a very technical legal aspect of the rule that the association asserted could leave certain multi-stage manufacturers without a defensible path to proper certification.

The court’s ruling should not affect the work being done by a multi-stage manufacturer on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, this ruling will not affect the significant relief provided to vehicle upfitters by NHTSA in the original rulemaking on Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 216 in May 2009 that is scheduled to take effect in 2017 for larger vehicles.

“Although we are disappointed by the court’s decision, the NTEA will continue its efforts to ensure our members have the ability to build and sell the varied configurations of vehicles they do today,” says Steve Carey, NTEA Executive Director.

NHTSA has long accepted the fact that small business, multi-stage manufacturers in the work truck industry build a very diverse population of vehicle configurations in small production runs. As a result, they are not capable of performing destructive tests on vehicles.

The primary method multi-stage manufacturers employ to certify a vehicle to the applicable FMVSS is known as “pass-through.” Pass-through certification allows subsequent stage manufacturers to follow the guidelines provided by OEMs in their incomplete vehicle documents and “pass-through” their certification of the vehicle.

In an earlier lawsuit (1990), the NTEA challenged this method as inadequate since it only applied to vehicles completed from chassis-cabs and not other incomplete vehicles. The court agreed and added chassis like strip chassis and cutaways to the pass-through regulations.

When NHTSA issued new rules covering roof crush standards, it extended coverage of FMVSS 216 from the previous 6,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and less to vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 lbs. and less. The rule also provides a more stringent testing protocol.

In the new rule, NHTSA exempted certain multi-stage vehicles. This was the first time that NHTSA determined it had the legal authority to specifically exclude multi-stage produced vehicles from the coverage of a standard when warranted and did so as a result of the NTEA’s arguments.

The amended roof crush regulation will not apply to multi-stage vehicles built on non-chassis-cabs (such as strip chassis or cutaways) that have a GVW of 6,001 to 10,000 lbs. NHTSA acknowledged that there might be certification problems for vehicles built on non-chassis-cabs due to the lack of adequate pass-through opportunities.

Also as a result of the NTEA’s efforts, those multi-stage produced vehicles affected by the new regulation that are rated at 6,000 lbs. or less will not have to be compliant until 2016, and those affected vehicles 6,001 to 10,000 lbs. will have until 2017 to comply.

Legal Challenge
Despite the relief that resulted from the NTEA’s actions in response to NHTSA’s original proposal, there remained legal concerns over some technical aspects of the certification process.

When the NTEA looked at the existing FMVSS 216 conformity statements from various OEMs, they did not appear to offer final-stage manufacturers adequate information for proper pass-through. The NTEA also expressed concern that it could be an improper delegation of federal authority to allow an interested party to write conformity statements that would determine whether a final-stage manufacturer could use pass-through certification.

Unfortunately, the Court was not swayed by the NTEA’s arguments. 

Moving Forward
The NTEA remains committed to working with NHTSA and the chassis manufacturers to ensure that appropriate guidance for the pass-through completion of affected vehicles is provided to NTEA members.