Chief of the Vehicle Division , Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance
National Highway Traffic Safety Authority
LCT: Can you explain to us (in a nutshell) what NHTSA?s core mission is?
Thompson: NHTSA?s mission is to reduce deaths and injuries on the nation?s highways.
LCT: How does that mission apply to the limousine industry?
Thompson: Limousines are classified in our regulations as passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, and buses. The majority of the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) apply to these vehicle types and to regulated equipment items in these vehicles, e.g., exterior lighting devices. Limousines that meet the requirements of the safety standards provide safety benefits to drivers and passengers that reduce the risk of deaths and number and severity of injuries. In addition, NHTSA uses information about problems with vehicles and equipment that it receives from manufacturers and other partners, e.g., limousine operators, to quickly identify safety defects in vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA monitors corrective action by manufacturers to ensure that remedies effectively deal with the safety risks associated with safety defects and failing to comply with safety standards.
LCT: Can you describe the circumstances of when NHTSA and limousine manufacturers first met in the late 1980s after a high-profile accident in Michigan?
Thompson: I believe you are referring to a limousine crash that resulted in a severe injury to a Detroit Red Wings player. In the late 1980s and early ?90s, inquiries by the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance to limousine producers were prompted by increases in length and weight of limousines.
LCT: Have you had much contact with limousine builders between the meeting at the LCT Show in Baltimore and the present?
Thompson: We attend various industry shows and have participated in panel discussions as well.
LCT: Have you seen an increase or decrease in the number of reported accidents since that high-profile accident?
Thompson: It is difficult to isolate limousines in our databases because the vehicle identification numbers typically do not have a separate code for limousines.
LCT: What is NHTSA doing now regarding coachbuilders? compliance with the FMVSS?
Thompson: During 2001, the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) requested information from 14 coachbuilders. Most of the coachbuilders responded. OVSC is checking to see if those companies that did not respond are still in business. The responses received have been reviewed. Follow-up letters are being prepared.
LCT: How active of a role do you think NHTSA will play in the future of the limousine industry?
Thompson: Our role is safety. We appreciate the efforts of original vehicle manufacturers, Ford and General Motors, to develop vehicles and programs that assist the coachbuilders in meeting their responsibilities as manufacturers, alterers, and modifiers, to produce limousines that comply with the FMVSS. At the same time, NHTSA will continue to ask questions and gather data to determine if unsafe vehicles or equipment exist. We do this everyday, not only for the limousine industry, but also for all motor vehicles and equipment. It is our experience that every segment of the motor vehicle and equipment market has a small minority of manufacturers that do not pay enough attention to meeting safety standard requirements, whereas the greater majority do so. Likewise, a small number of vehicles or equipment are not designed and built with sufficient integrity to sustain ?reasonable? customer use over time; are manufactured using inferior parts, e.g., due to supplier error; or are simply manufactured incorrectly, e.g., due to human error. When it is decided that a noncompliance with a safety standard or a safety defect exists, the law requires that the manufacturer conduct a recall campaign. The manufacturer must offer a free remedy for the noncompliance or safety defect to owners of vehicles and equipment up to 10 years old. In addition, a civil penalty can be assessed against a manufacturer where NHTSA influenced a recall and also for failing to satisfy recall obligations, e.g., by failing to conduct the recall in a timely and efficient manner. Manufacturers that take great care in the design and manufacture of vehicles and equipment reduce the potential for safety defects and non-compliances with safety standard requirements. By doing so, they are partners with NHTSA in our mission to reduce deaths and injuries on the nation?s highways.