Products Liability Law Daily NHTSA proposal seeks to amend safety standard pertaining to CNG fuel containers
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Friday, June 21, 2019

NHTSA proposal seeks to amend safety standard pertaining to CNG fuel containers

By Colleen Kave, J.D.

Proposed rule addresses industry stakeholders’ petitions regarding inspection intervals.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend the visual inspection labeling requirement in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 304, Compressed natural gas fuel container integrity, to state that compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel containers used on heavy vehicles should be inspected at least once every 12 months. Comments on the proposal are due by August 20, 2019 (NHTSA Proposed Rule84 FR 29145, June 21, 2019).

Background. NHTSA initiated this rulemaking in response to petitions from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) (received in April 2016) and Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica) (received in September 2016) requesting that the agency amend S7.4(g) of FMVSS No. 304. According to the petitioners, although the label’s current inspection interval (every 36,000 miles or 36 months, whichever comes first) is appropriate for light vehicles (vehicles with a GVWR less than or equal to 4,536 kg), which are typically driven between 10,000 miles and 12,000 miles annually, it is inappropriate for heavy vehicles, which are typically used in high-mileage commercial fleet operations. The petitioners explained that heavy duty vehicles (vehicles with a GVWR greater than 11,793 kg) are driven well over 100,000 miles annually, and to follow the label’s instructions, commercial operators of these vehicles need to conduct a detailed visual inspection of their vehicles’ CNG fuel containers 3 to 4 times per year. The petitioners believe this creates an unreasonable burden on these commercial operators without a concomitant safety benefit.

To address this issue, the petitioners requested that the agency amend the visual inspection label requirement to remove the mileage interval for visual inspection, while keeping a time interval. However, the two petitioners differed on how long this time interval should be, as well as to what weight classes of vehicle this change should apply. ATA suggested that the visual inspection label recommend an inspection interval of at least every 36 months, whereas NGVAmerica suggested that the label recommend an inspection interval of at least every 12 months. In addition, ATA requested that the revised visual inspection interval apply to CNG fuel containers on high-mileage commercial CNG vehicles, while NGVAmerica requested that the revised visual inspection interval apply to CNG fuel containers on all CNG vehicles.

NPRM. After careful consideration, NHTSA decided to partially grant the petitions for rulemaking. NHTSA proposes amending the FMVSS No. 304 visual inspection label to state that the CNG fuel container should be visually inspected for damage and deterioration after a motor vehicle accident or fire, and either (a) at least every 12 months when installed on a vehicle with a GVWR greater than 4,536 kg or (b) at least every 36 months or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first, when installed on a vehicle with a GVWR less than or equal to 4,536 kg. NHTSA proposes to amend the periodic visual inspection interval for CNG fuel containers on heavy vehicles to "at least once every 12 months," without including a mileage interval, to account for the fact that these vehicles are commonly used for high-mileage commercial purposes. The current periodic inspection interval (at least every 36,000 miles or 36 months, whichever comes first) was originally intended for light vehicles.

NHTSA has tentatively concluded that reducing the frequency of inspections to once every 12 months for heavy vehicles aligns the requirement with the agency’s intent that the inspection interval be reasonable and not excessive, and is appropriately tailored to the vehicle type (high-mileage commercial vehicles). In addition, a 12-month interval for visual inspection aligns with a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirement that inspections must be performed annually. The proposed rule does not include changes to the periodic visual inspection interval for CNG fuel containers on light vehicles because the current periodic inspection interval (at least every 36,000 miles or 36 months, whichever comes first) is consistent with ensuring adequate safeguards for the operation of these vehicles.

MainStory: TopStory ProposedRules MotorVehiclesNews

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