The Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission as a Mechanism for State Involvement in the Development of Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

One issue previously raised in this report is the growth, subsequent to the enactment of the Safety Act, of a “no-man’s land” with respect to the regulation of certain items of motor vehicle equipment. Because the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are minimum standards, applicable only to required equipment on newly manufactured motor vehicles, they rely on outside authorities, principally the states, to establish performance standards with respect to additional items of motor vehicle equipment. This the states have for the most part ceased to do, but that has not always been the case.

For 20 years, states worked together through an official interstate agency
Known as the Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission (VESC) to formulate rules, regulations or codes embodying performance requirements or restrictions” for items of motor vehicle equipment.1 This was done, prior to the Safety Act, to encourage the “prompt adoption of uniform standards.”2 The coming of the Safety Act was not intended to make the VESC redundant, however. In fact, the continued existence of the VESC was envisioned as an integral part of the federal scheme. Section 1392(f) of the Safety Act provides that in prescribing standards under this section, the Secretary shall--

(2) Consult with the Vehicle Equipment Safety Commision, and such other State or interstate agencies (including legislative committees) as he deems appropriate.

(3) The disappearance of the VESC in 1983, due to long-term funding problems, created a gap that no other organization has been able to fill.

The VESC Files were held by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) for many sears. Subsequent to AAMVA discontinuing it’s Equipment Compliance Program and the creation of the Automotive Manufacturers Equipment Compliance Agency (AMECA) by former AAMVA staff members to continue the Equipment Compliance Program the VESC files were transferred to AMECA.

AMECA offers to the states and to motor vehicle equipment manufacturers a mechanism for proving compliance with existing performance standards for motor vehicle equipment. But the AMECA is not in the business of establishing or revising standards relating to new or changing items of equipment. Meanwhile, industry groups such as SAE establish technical standards for a great variety of motor vehicle equipment but are not in a position politically to make recommendations concerning the desirability of adopting a particular standard. It has also been observed that, while the federal requirements do change in response to developments in highway safety equipment, those requirements change very slowly and only after a substantial benefit from the modification has been clearly demonstrated.

Both AAMVA and later AMECA have for many years maintained a hope that VESC could one day be reactivated. The old files of VESC are in the possession of AAMVA, and many of the old standards developed by VESC continue to be important to AMECA compliance testing of motor vehicle equipment. But gray areas exist where there are no recognized standards with respect to certain categories of equipment. One such category of equipment is the subject of this report. There needs to be an organization responsible for the adoption of standards relating to those categories of equipment. It is important that the organization be more responsive to current developments in motor vehicle safety equipment than is possible for NHTSA. And it is important that the organization possess the authority to adopt uniform standards acceptable to all the states.

1. The Council of State Governments. 1962. Interstate Compacts for Traffic Safety: The Drivers License Compact and The Vehicle Equipment Safety Compact. Chicago, p. 6.
2. Id.
3. 15 USC § 1392(f).