National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA /ˈnɪtsə/ NITS)[8] is an agency of the U.S. federal government, part of the Department of Transportation, focused on transportation safety in the United States.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Agency overview
FormedDecember 31, 1970; 53 years ago (1970-12-31)
Preceding agency
  • National Highway Safety Bureau[1]
JurisdictionU.S. motor vehicles[2]
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
Motto"People saving people"[3]
Employees626 (FY 2017)[4][5]
Annual budget$1.6 billion (FY 2024)[6]
Agency executives
  • Sophie Shulman, Acting Administrator
  • Sophie Shulman, Deputy Administrator
Parent departmentDepartment of Transportation

NHTSA is charged with writing and enforcing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards as well as regulations for motor vehicle theft resistance and fuel economy, as part of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) system. FMVSS 209 was the first standard to become effective on March 1, 1967. NHTSA licenses vehicle manufacturers and importers, allows or blocks the import of vehicles and safety-regulated vehicle parts, administers the vehicle identification number (VIN) system, develops the anthropomorphic dummies used in U.S. safety testing as well as the test protocols themselves, and provides vehicle insurance cost information. The agency has asserted preemptive regulatory authority over greenhouse gas emissions, but this has been disputed by such state regulatory agencies as the California Air Resources Board.[citation needed]

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are contained in the United States 49 CFR 571. Additional federal vehicle standards are contained elsewhere in the CFR. Another of NHTSA's activities is the collection of data about motor vehicle crashes, available in various data files maintained by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, in particular the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the Crash Investigation Sampling System (CISS, where technicians investigate a random sample of police crash reports), and others.[9]



In 1964 and 1966, public pressure grew in the United States to increase the safety of cars, culminating with the publishing of Unsafe at Any Speed, by Ralph Nader, an activist lawyer, and the report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society.

In 1966, Congress held a series of publicized hearings regarding highway safety, passed legislation to make the installation of seat belts mandatory, and created the U.S. Department of Transportation on October 15, 1966 (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 89–670). Legislation signed by President Lyndon Johnson earlier on September 9, 1966, included the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 89–563) and Highway Safety Act (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 89–564) that created the National Traffic Safety Agency, the National Highway Safety Agency, and the National Highway Safety Bureau, predecessor agencies to what would eventually become NHTSA. Once the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) came into effect, vehicles not certified by the maker or importer as compliant with US safety standards were no longer legal to import into the United States.

Congress established NHTSA in 1970 with the Highway Safety Act of 1970 (Title II of Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 91–605, 84 Stat. 1713, enacted December 31, 1970, at 84 Stat. 1739). In 1972, the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 92–513, 86 Stat. 947, enacted October 20, 1972) expanded NHTSA's scope to include consumer information programs. Despite improvements in vehicle design and public awareness of issues like drunk driving, traffic fatalities have remained stubbornly high. In the early 2020s, more than 40,000 U.S. residents died in automotive collisions every year.

NHTSA has conducted numerous high-profile investigations of automotive safety issues, including the Audi 5000/60 Minutes affair, the Ford Explorer rollover problem, and the Toyota sticky accelerator pedal problem. The agency has introduced a proposal to mandate Electronic Stability Control on all passenger vehicles by the 2012 model year. This technology was first brought to public attention in 1997, with the Swedish moose test. Other than that, NHTSA has issued only a few regulations in the past 25 years[when?].[original research?] Most of the reduction in vehicle fatality rates during the last third of the 20th century were gained from the initial NHTSA safety standards during 1968–1984 and subsequent voluntary changes in vehicle crashworthiness by vehicle manufacturers.[10]

Regulatory performance

Annual US traffic fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled (red), miles traveled (blue), per one million people (orange), total annual deaths (light blue), VMT in tens of billions (dark blue), and population in millions (teal), from 1921 to 2017

Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2021 have concluded that NHTSA is ineffectual[further explanation needed]; the 2021 audit found NHTSA failing to issue or update Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards effectively or to act within timeframes on petitions and investigations; having no process in place for critical agency responsibilities like evaluating petitions, and having failed to implement consensus recommendations derived from the Inspector General's audit a decade before, in 2011.[11][12] The 2018 audit found NHTSA incapable of conducting adequate, timely safety recalls.[13] The 2015 audit found NHTSA's collection and analysis of safety-related data to be inadequate,[14] and the agency to be lackadaisical and careless in examining safety defects.[15]

Government data (from FARS for the U.S.) in a 2004 book by former General Motors safety researcher Leonard Evans[16] shows other countries achieving greater traffic safety improvements over time than those achieved in the United States:[needs update]

Country 1979 fatalities 2002 fatalities Percent change
United States 51,093 42,815 −16.2%
Great Britain 6,352 3,431 −46.0%
Canada 5,863 2,936 −49.9%
Australia 3,508 1,715 −51.1%

Research suggests one reason the U.S. continues to lag in traffic safety is the relatively high prevalence in the U.S. of pickup trucks and SUVs, which a 2003 study by the U.S. Transportation Research Board found are significantly less safe than passenger cars.[17] Comparisons of past data with the present in the U.S. can result in distortions, due to a significant population increase and since the level of large commercial truck traffic has substantially increased from the 1960s, but highway capacity has not kept up.[18][19] However, other factors exert significant influence; Canada has lower roadway death and injury rates despite a vehicle mix and regulations similar to those of the U.S.[16] Nevertheless, the widespread use of truck-based vehicles as passenger carriers is correlated with roadway deaths and injuries not only directly by dint of vehicular safety performance per se, but also indirectly through the relatively low fuel costs that facilitate the use of such vehicles in North America. Motor vehicle fatalities decline as gasoline prices increase.[20]

International counterparts and the grey market


In 1958, under the auspices of the United Nations, a consortium called the Economic Commission for Europe had been established to normalize vehicle regulations across Europe to standardize best practices in vehicle design and equipment and minimize technical barriers to pan-European vehicle trade and traffic. This eventually became the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which began to promulgate what would eventually become the UN Regulations on the design, construction, and safety and emissions performance of vehicles and their components. Many of the world's countries accept or require vehicles and equipment built to the UN Regulations,[21] but the U.S does not recognize the UN Regulations and blocks the importation of vehicles and components not manufacturer-certified as complying with the U.S. regulations.[22]

Because of the unavailability in America of certain vehicle models, a grey market arose in the late 1970s. This provided a method to acquire vehicles not officially offered in the United States, but enough vehicles imported this way were faulty, shoddy, and unsafe[23][24][25] that Mercedes-Benz of North America helped launch a successful congressional lobbying effort to close down the grey market in 1988.[26] As a result, it was no longer possible to import foreign vehicles into the United States as a personal import, with few exceptions—primarily vehicles meeting Canadian regulations substantially similar to those of the United States, and vehicles imported temporarily for display or research purposes. In practice, the gray market involved a few thousand cars annually, before its virtual elimination in 1988.[27]

In 1998, NHTSA exempted vehicles older than 25 years from the rules it administers, since these are presumed to be collector vehicles.[22] In 1999, certain very low production volume specialist vehicles were also exempt for "Show and Display" purposes.

In the mid-1960s, when the framework was established for US vehicle safety regulations, the US auto market was an oligopoly, with three companies (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) controlling 85% of the market.[28][better source needed] The ongoing ban on newer vehicles considered safe in countries with lower vehicle-related death rates has created a perception that an effect of NHTSA's regulatory activity is to protect the U.S. market for a modified oligopoly consisting of the three U.S.-based automakers and the American operations of foreign-brand producers. It has been suggested[29] that the impetus for NHTSA's seeming preoccupation with market control rather than vehicular safety performance is a result of overt market protections such as tariffs and local-content laws having become politically unpopular due to the increasing popularity of free trade, thus driving the industry to adopt less visible forms of trade restrictions in the form of technical regulations different from those outside the United States.[30]

An example of the market-control effects of NHTSA's regulatory protocol is found in the agency's 1974 banning of the Citroën SM automobile, which contemporary journalists[who?] described as one of the safest vehicles available at the time.[citation needed] NHTSA disapproved the SM's designs featuring steerable headlamps that were not of the sealed beam design that was then mandatory in the U.S. as well as its height adjustable suspension, which made compliance with the 1973 bumper requirements cost-prohibitive. The initial bumper regulations were intended to prevent functional damage to a vehicle's safety-related components such as lights and fuel system components when subjected to barrier crash tests at 5 miles per hour (8 km/h) at the front and 2.5 mph (4 km/h) at the rear.[31] However, these regulations at low-speed collisions did not enhance occupant safety.[32]

Vehicle manufacturers have acknowledged the functional equivalence of the UN and U.S. regulations, encouraged developing countries to recognize and accept both,[21] and advocated for equal recognition of both systems in developed countries.[33] However, some structural features of the U.S. legal system are incompatible with some aspects of the UN regulatory system.[34] Studies have concluded that commonizing regulations between the US and the rest of the world (which uses U.N. Regulations) would save significant money, likely without affecting safety.[35]

Cost and cost-benefit


NHTSA uses cost–benefit analysis for every safety device, system, or design feature mandated for installation on vehicles.[36] No device, system, or design feature may be mandated unless it costs no more than a specified amount of money per life saved, or will save more money (in property damage, health care, etc.) than it costs. Requirements are balanced through estimated costs and estimated benefits. For example, FMVSS #208 effectively mandates the installation of frontal airbags in all new vehicles in the United States, for it is written such that no other technology can meet the stipulated requirements.[citation needed] It has been argued that even using conservative cost figures and optimistic benefit figures, airbags' cost–benefit ratio so extreme that it may fall outside of the cost–benefit requirements for mandatory safety devices.[37][38] Cost–benefit requirements have been used as the basis for lighting-related regulation in the U.S; for example, while many countries in the world since at least the early 1970s have required rear turn signals to emit amber light so they might be distinguished from adjacent red brake lamps, U.S. regulations permit rear turn signals to emit either amber or red light. This has historically been justified on grounds of lower manufacturing cost[39] and greater automaker styling freedom in the context of no demonstrated safety benefit to amber over red.[40][41][42] More recent[when?] NHTSA-sponsored research has demonstrated that amber rear turn signals provide significantly better crash avoidance than red ones,[43][44] and NHTSA has found there is no significant cost penalty to amber signals versus red ones,[39] yet the agency has not moved to require amber—instead proposing in 2015 to award extra NCAP points to passenger vehicles with amber rear turn signals.[39] As of September 2022, however, the agency has not put this proposal into effect.

Fuel economy


CAFE regulations


NHTSA administers the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), which is intended to incentivize the production of fuel-efficient vehicles by dint of fuel economy requirements measured against the sales-weighted harmonic average of each manufacturer's range of vehicles. Many governments outside North America promote fuel economy by heavily taxing motor fuel and/or by including a vehicle's weight, engine size, or fuel economy in calculating vehicle registration taxes (road tax).


Consumer information label for a vehicle with NCAP rating
NHTSA front and side-impact tests of the 2006 Honda Ridgeline at 35 mph (56 km/h) and 38.5 mph (62 km/h), respectively

United States has been the first country/region to have a NCAP program before being copied by other regional, European, American, Asiatic, Oceanic or global NCAP programs. This makes the New Car Assessment Program colloquial and design either US NCAP or generic NCAP.

In 1979, NHTSA created the/a New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in response to Title II of the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972, to encourage manufacturers to build safer vehicles and consumers to buy them. Since that time, the agency has improved the program by adding rating programs, facilitating access to test results, and revising the format of the information to make it easier for consumers to understand.[45] NHTSA asserts the program has influenced manufacturers to build vehicles that consistently achieve high ratings.[45]

The first standardized 35 mph (56 km/h) front crash test was on May 21, 1979, and the first results were released on October 15 that year.

The agency established a frontal impact test protocol based on Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 ("Occupant Crash Protection"), except that the frontal 4 NCAP test is conducted at 35 mph (56 km/h), rather than 30 mph (48 km/h) as required by FMVSS No. 208.

To improve the dissemination of NCAP ratings, and as a result of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA–LU), the agency has issued a Final Rule requiring manufacturers to place NCAP star ratings on the Monroney sticker (automobile price sticker). The rule had a September 1, 2007 compliance date.[46]

Since 2020, it is mandatory to show a safety label with all display vehicles in Malaysia. The printed information does not show the presence of crash eCall, presence eCall, drunk driving warning, anti-theft and lack of keyless technology as features. It does not seem that NCAPs less strict than the local one or which do not penalize flammability, fire toxicity, lifecycle toxicity, true climate impact, water impact, worker and population impact, biodiversity impact, weak cybersecurity, or heavy or pedestrian-unfriendly vehicles are banned.[47]



The agency has[when?] an annual budget of $1.09 billion (FY2020). The agency classifies most of its spending under the driver safety heading, with a minority spent on vehicle safety, and a smaller amount on energy security matters of which it is in charge, i.e., vehicular fuel economy.

Past administrators

Administrator Term started Term ended
Steven Cliff 2022 2022
Mark Rosekind 2014 2017
David Strickland 2010 2014
Nicole Nason 2006 2008
Jeffrey W. Runge 2001 2005
Sue Bailey 2000 2001
Ricardo Martinez 1994 1999
Marion Blakey 1992 1993
Jerry Ralph Curry 1989 1992
Diane K. Steed 1983 1989
Raymond A. Peck, Jr. 1981 1981
Joan Claybrook 1977 1981
John W. Snow 1976 1977
James Gregory 1973 1976
Douglas W. Toms 1970 1973


See also



  1. ^ "Who We Are and What We Do". National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  2. ^ "National Highway Traffic Safety Administration". International Trade Data System. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  3. ^ "THIS IS NHTSA" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 5, 2016. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  4. ^ "Budget Estimates, Fiscal Year 2018" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved September 9, 2021.
  5. ^ "Budget Estimates Fiscal Year 2016 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration" (PDF). U.S. Department of Transportation. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 21, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  6. ^ "Budget Estimates, Fiscal Year 2025" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  7. ^ "NHTSA Leadership". NHTSA. August 2021. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
  8. ^ Calmes, Jackie (April 5, 2014). "Minding the Minders of G.M." New York Times.
  9. ^ "Crash Investigation Sampling System". NHTSA. Retrieved July 8, 2023.
  10. ^ Robertson, Leon S. (2007). Injury Epidemiology (Third ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 186–194. ISBN 978-0-19-506956-3.
  11. ^ Stern, Daniel (November 16, 2021). "Systemic Dysfunction at NHTSA: Audit". Driving Vision News. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  12. ^ Weaknesses in NHTSA's Training and Guidance Limit Its Ability To Set and Enforce Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
  13. ^ NHTSA's Management of Light Passenger Vehicle Recalls Lacks Adequate Processes and Oversight
  14. ^ Inadequate Data and Analysis Undermine NHTSA's Efforts To Identify and Investigate Vehicle Safety Concerns
  15. ^ Ballaban, Michael (June 22, 2015). "Scathing Audit Reveals NHTSA Is A Five-Star Government Clusterfuck". Jalopnic. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  16. ^ a b Evans, Leonard (2004). Traffic Safety. Science Serving Society. ISBN 978-0-9754871-0-5.
  17. ^ Wenzel, Tom; Ross, Marc (January 15, 2003). "Are SUVs Safer than Cars? An Analysis of Risk by Vehicle Type and Model" (PDF). Transportation Research Board 82nd Annual Meeting. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 3, 2013. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  18. ^ Federal Highway Administration (2006). "Chapter 14 Freight Transportation". 2006 Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance. United States Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on August 23, 2007. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  19. ^ Robertson, Leon S. (2006). "Motor Vehicle Deaths: Failed Policy Analysis and Neglected Policy". Journal of Public Health Policy. 27 (2): 182–189. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jphp.3200074. PMID 16961196. S2CID 19954345.
  20. ^ Grabowski, David C.; Morrissey, Michael A. (2004). "Gasoline Prices and Motor Vehicle Fatalities". Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 23 (3): 575–593. doi:10.1002/pam.20028.
  21. ^ a b "Automotive Regulations and Certification Processes: Global Manufacturers' Perspective". U.S. Automotive Industry Coalition Meeting - Andean/Mexico Delegation. December 7, 2016. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  22. ^ a b "What you need to know to avoid seeing your grey market car get crushed". Digital Trends. August 30, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  23. ^ Ramos, George (May 23, 1985). "U.S. Accuses 'Gray Market' Car Importer". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  24. ^ "Deception on Engines Charged: 'Gray Market' Mercedes Dealer Held". Los Angeles Times. April 26, 1986. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  25. ^ Dean, Paul (July 11, 1986). "Wheeling-Dealing Gray Market Hits the Skids: Bad Publicity, Corporate Action, Legislation Put Brakes on Car Conversions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  26. ^ "How To: Win the Car-Importing Game". Archived from the original on February 3, 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  27. ^ "Car Show Classic: 1985 Citroen CX 25 GTi Series 2 – Blue Is A Warmer Color Than Grey". Curbside Classic. January 10, 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  28. ^ "Carpe Diem". Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  29. ^ Wenners, M.E.; Frusti, J.M.; Ninomiya, J.S. (September 29, 1998). "Global Regulatory Harmonization—One American Manufacturer's Perspective". SAE Technical Paper Series. Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). doi:10.4271/982266. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  30. ^ Stern, Daniel (June 24, 2013). "Crouching Tariff, Hidden Trade Barrier?". Driving Vision News. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  31. ^ La Heist, Warren G.; Ephraim, Frank G. "An Evaluation of the Bumper Standard - As Modified in 1982 - NHTSA Report Number DOT HS 807 072". Archived from the original on March 4, 2009. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  32. ^ "Top 5: Citroen SM innovations that saw the future video - CNET". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  33. ^ Stern, Daniel (May 20, 2013). "Ford Push for Global Regs...Meaning What?". Driving Vision News. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  34. ^ Stern, Daniel (October 28, 2013). "Legal Hurdles to Regulatory Harmony". Driving Vision News. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  35. ^ Beene, Ryan (July 25, 2015). "Wiping out U.S.-EU rules disparities would yield big savings". Automotive News. Archived from the original on September 19, 2022. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  36. ^ Viscusi, Kip Regulatory Economics in the Courts: an Analysis of Judge Scalia's NHTSA Bumper Decision Law and Contemporary Problems volume 50 issue 4 1988 Retrieved July 29, 2015.
  37. ^ "John Graham Releases Results of Cost–Benefit Analysis of Air Bag Safety". March 25, 1997. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  38. ^ Thompson, Kimberly M.; Segui-Gomez, Maria; Graham, John D. (October 3, 2002). "Validating Benefit and Cost Estimates: The Case of Airbag Regulation". Risk Analysis. 22 (4): 803–811. Bibcode:2002RiskA..22..803T. doi:10.1111/0272-4332.00070. PMID 12224752. S2CID 27273577.
  39. ^ a b c "".
  40. ^ Automotive Lighting in North America, Driving Vision News, 2011
  41. ^ Hitzemeyer, Erwin G.; Wilde, Helmut; Ellenberger, Donald (1977), "What Color Should Rear Turn Signals Be?", SAE Technical Paper Series, vol. 1, Society of Automotive Engineers - Technical Papers, doi:10.4271/770812, retrieved March 31, 2022
  42. ^ Dorleans, Guy (1997), "World Harmonization and Procedures for Lighting and Signaling Products", SAE Technical Paper Series, vol. 1, Society of Automotive Engineers - Technical Papers, doi:10.4271/970913, retrieved March 31, 2022
  43. ^ "The Influence of Rear Turn Signal Characteristics on Crash Risk" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 11, 2009. Retrieved October 17, 2011. (527 KB)
  44. ^ Allen, Kirk (2009). "The Effectiveness of Amber Rear Turn Signals for Reducing Rear Impacts, DOT HS 811 115" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  45. ^ a b "The New Car Assessment Program Suggested Approaches for Future Program Enhancements" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. January 2007. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  46. ^ " | NHTSA" (PDF). Archived from the original on September 25, 2007.
  47. ^ "ASEAN NCAP and KPDNHEP mandatory safety rating labels begin appearing on new cars in showrooms -". May 18, 2020.
  48. ^ "Past NHTSA Administrators".

Further reading


  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Department of Transportation.