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 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Vehicle Importation Regulations
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation that carries out the vital mission of reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes. The agency accomplishes this mission, in part, by setting and enforcing Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) that establish minimum performance requirements for the safety systems and components on motor vehicles and for certain items of motor vehicle equipment.

Motor Vehicle Imports
As part of its responsibilities, the agency monitors vehicles that are imported into the United States to ensure that those vehicles were either originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and are so certified by their original manufacturer, or are capable of being modified to comply with those standards following importation.

NHTSA’s jurisdiction is limited to “motor vehicles,” which are defined in the governing statute as vehicles “that are driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways.” The agency does not regulate vehicles such as dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles or “ATVs,” or racing vehicles that are not primarily manufactured for on-road use. Certain of these vehicles may be subject to regulation by other Federal agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because these vehicles are not primarily manufactured for use on public roads, they can be lawfully imported without regard to their compliance with the FMVSS.

In monitoring vehicle imports, NHTSA’s principal focus is on vehicles that were not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, or were not so certified by their original manufacturer. These vehicles can be lawfully imported into the United States only if NHTSA decides that they are eligible for importation, based on their capability of being modified to comply with all applicable FMVSS. The agency makes these decisions on a make, model, and model year basis, either on its own initiative, or in response to a petition filed by an importer specially registered with the agency, referred to as a “Registered Importer” or “RI.”

A unique “vehicle eligibility number” is assigned to each separate make, model, and model year vehicle that NHTSA decides is eligible for importation. The number is entered on the HS-7 Declaration form that must be filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Customs) for each motor vehicle or regulated item of motor vehicle equipment that is imported into the United States. The HS-7 can also be filed electronically through Customs’ Automated Broker Interface (ABI) system. Once it is determined eligible for importation, a nonconforming vehicle can be lawfully imported by an RI or by a person who has a contract with an RI to modify the vehicle so that it complies with all applicable FMVSS following importation. A DOT Conformance bond must also be furnished for the vehicle at the time of importation to ensure that it is either brought into compliance with all applicable FMVSS within 120 days from the date of entry, or is exported from, or abandoned to, the United States.

Motor Vehicle Equipment Imports
Unlike vehicles, regulated items of motor vehicle equipment that were not originally manufactured to comply with the applicable FMVSS, or were not so certified by their original manufacturer, cannot be imported into the United States. NHTSA therefore monitors incoming shipments of regulated motor vehicle equipment items to ensure that those items bear the requisite certification markings. Regulated items of motor vehicle equipment include tires, rims, brake hoses, brake fluid, seat belt assemblies, lighting equipment, glazing materials, child restraint systems, motorcycle helmets, rear impact guards, and compressed natural gas fuel containers.

In recent years, Congress has placed renewed emphasis upon the monitoring of certain items of imported motor vehicle equipment, such as tires and lighting equipment, to determine their compliance with the FMVSS. NHTSA inspects and tests samples of some equipment to determine whether they comply with the standards. NHTSA also investigates possible safety defects in equipment. Manufacturers are responsible for recalling defective or noncompliant equipment. By statute, importers of vehicles and equipment are considered manufacturers. However, once items of equipment are beyond the point of their first retail sale the practical difficulties of recalling defective or noncompliant equipment are substantial. Accordingly, NHTSA will make every effort to alert Customs to specific items of equipment that are known to be noncompliant or defective so that the agencies can coordinate on the proper disposition of such equipment that may be arriving in this country.

Information Sharing and Agency Contacts
NHTSA currently receives entry data on imported vehicles and regulated items of motor vehicle equipment through the Customs Automated Commercial System (ACS), which the agency downloads into its own Motor Vehicle Importation Information (MVII) System. The agency looks forward to receiving more accurate and timely entry data through its participation in the ACE/ITDS project.

Information on the vehicle importation program, including a detailed set of answers to frequently asked questions, can be accessed on the agency’s website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import ( National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Vehicle Importation Regulations ) . Specific questions regarding vehicle importation issues can also be directed to the agency’s Import and Certification Division by telephone at 202-366-5291, or by e-mail at importandcertification@nhtsa.dot.gov.

Specific questions concerning motor vehicle equipment and its compliance with the FMVSS can be directed to the agency’s Equipment Division by telephone at 202-366-5322.

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