All vehicles sold within an individual country are required to comply with minimum vehicle safety standards developed or adopted by that country. The vehicle compliance requirements vary between countries, for example in Canada they are the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS), in the US they are designated the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS – see list below for passenger vehicles only), while in Europe, the predominant compliance standards are the European Safety Standards (ESS).
As the automobile industry in North America has developed to a major extent within the US, the development of safety standards developed predominantly there making the FMVSS the basis for most countries vehicle compliance standards – including Canada. In today’s world, there is a great effort to try “harmonize” (i.e. adopt in parallel) these safety standards across different automotive market countries to the benefit of automotive manufacturers and consumers (i.e. similar products being allowed to be sold in various countries thus minimizing costs of production).
In North America, automotive technology and safety development has been lead by the US, and for the most part Canada has predominantly adopted the FMVSS requirements (all, or only portions, or not at all – see list below) into the CMVSS requirements as a means of “harmonizing” standards. Historically, automotive safety products initiated by manufacturers added to the vehicle cost and were not rapidly adopted or valued by vehicle purchasers – thus making the development of safety products less than appealing for most auto manufacturers. This can be seen by reviewing the long history, the delayed deployment and/or improper use of seat belts, airbags and head restraints in vehicles over the past nearly 40 years. The fact is – back then safety didn’t sell – and as such many manufacturers moved towards safety products only when required by federal requirements. This is not true of some manufacturers however, for example GM was one of the first to introduce seat belts, and headrests (now referred to as head restraints), and later airbags into their production passenger vehicles.
The safety standards in place today were a long time coming, and in the US there has certainly been more of a culture of developing these standards to “force” all manufacturers to address the needs for protecting occupants, at least to some minimum standard, while as an occupant in their vehicles during a collision event. This use of requirements to force ALL automotive manufacturers is in contrast to Canada where historically a typical wait-and-see approach has been used before adopting FMVSS requirements into CMVSS standards. It is critical to recognize that these are merely minimum vehicle compliance requirements only, and as such do not guarantee occupant safety during a collision. Manufacturers need only meet these standards to sell vehicles within the applicable country. Therefore, any assumption that vehicles are made “safe” by these minimum standards is an illusion. However, that said, the continued implementation and upgrading (sometimes long overdue) of at least these minimum standards has certainly assisted in reducing fatalities and injury severity from irresponsible vehicle manufacturers across both Canada and the US.
It should be noted that actual vehicle compliance crash testing, if required, is usually specified only for a single speed (typically around 30 mph or 48 km/hr) and for limited impact configurations. In addition, differences exist between countries – for example: frontal crash tests are required by both the US and Canada (C/FMVSS 208), side impact crash tests in the US only (C/FMVSS 214), and neither country requires rear impact crash tests to demonstrate occupant protection despite the fatalities and extreme social and economic cost of whiplash-type injuries resulting from these collisions. Where crash tests are required, automotive manufacturers will typically design their vehicles with priority given to be compliant in the defined test configuration, and test them “in-house” to ensure that they exceed these minimum standards. More responsible manufacturers will design their vehicles to be crashworthy for a broader range of crash configurations, and to exceed the safety standard by a significant margin in many cases. However, as most test data is kept confidential, only independent testing (such as IIHS crash testing) will highlight differences in individual vehicle model safety performance.
As the development, initial adoption and subsequent revision/upgrade of standards is a very slow process (typically many years), safety standards applicable to any model year vehicle can vary both by both intent and/or by adoption delays between countries. There are also regulatory differences in performance requirements which relate to the size of the vehicle, as some performance test requirements are known to be dependent on the specific mass of the vehicle or it’s components. For example, the seat back strength requirement (important to reduce the risk of occupant ejection in rear impacts) is dependent on the actual seatback mass. Thus a lighter weight seat (say from a smaller vehicle) requires successful loading by a lower test load to be compliant with the C/FMVSS 207 safety standards when compared to a heavier seat (say from a larger vehicle). The result is that even the minimum standards for seat strength vary – being less in lighter seats versus heavier seats – and thus offering less resistance to seat back failure during a crash. (It is interesting to note that the defined test value is independent of occupant mass or their inertia, i.e. the actual loading experienced by the seat.) Thus, there are cases where smaller/lighter vehicles are held to a lower standard than larger/heavier vehicles. This variability in performance expectations is not only within regulatory standards, but also gets reflected in independent testing as well. The five-star crash performance rating is sometimes reported as a “class” rating system where some scores are achieved by crash testing into walls and/or equivalent-sized vehicles. Both have the effect of representing performance within a “class” or size of vehicle, rather than relative to other vehicles (potentially smaller or larger). The result is that “relative” performance within a “class or equivalent size” of vehicles is provided, rather than a more important comparative safety rating for the vehicle if impacted against a larger or smaller vehicle. One should look for evaluations where relative performance across all classes is provided. It should be recognized that “size and mass” can offer significant advantages relative to crash safety performance when the vehicles are properly designed – and that even a high-rating in a smaller vehicle class is no guarantee of occupant crashworthiness protection when impacting a larger vehicle. Thus, if safety is truly a priority for a vehicle purchase, larger high-rated vehicles should be strongly considered.
Vehicle Safety Compliance Standards
Canada and the United States share many similarities in their minimum safety-related compliance requirements for all vehicles. Below we have mapped out some of the similarities and differences in some of the vehicle safety standards that are relevant to occupant protection during vehicle collisions. A brief description of each standard is provided below. For the purposes of brevity, we have restricted the list to those applying to passenger vehicles only.
Standard No. 201 - Occupant Protection in Interior Impact
This standard specifies performance requirements to provide head impact protection for occupants.
Standard No. 202 - Head Restraints - Passenger Cars
This standard specifies requirements for head restraints to reduce the frequency and severity of neck injuries in rear-end and other collisions.
Standard No. 203 - Impact Protection for the Driver from the Steering Control System
This standard specifies requirements for minimizing chest, neck, and facial injuries by providing steering systems that yield forward, cushioning the impact of the driver's chest by absorbing much of his or her impact energy in front-end crashes. Such systems are highly effective in reducing the likelihood of serious and fatal injuries.
Standard No. 204 - Steering Control Rearward Displacement
This standard specifies requirements limiting the rearward displacement of the steering column into the passenger compartment to reduce the likelihood of chest, neck, or head injuries.
Standard No. 205 - Glazing Materials
This standard specifies requirements for glazing materials for use in motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment for the purpose of reducing injuries resulting from impact to glazing surfaces. The purpose of this standard is to ensure a necessary degree of transparency in motor vehicle windows for driver visibility, and to minimize the possibility of occupants being thrown through the vehicle windows in collisions.
Standard No. 206 - Door Locks and Door Retention Components
This standard specifies requirements for side door locks and side door retention components including latches, hinges, and other supporting means, to minimize the likelihood of occupants being thrown from the vehicle as a result of impact.
Standard No. 207 - Seating Systems:
This standard establishes requirements for seats, attachment assemblies, and installation, to minimize the possibility of failure as a result of forces acting on the seat in vehicle impact.
Standard No. 208 - Occupant Crash Protection
This standard originally specified the type of occupant restraints (i.e., seat belts) required. It was amended to specify performance requirements for anthropomorphic test dummies seated in the front outboard seats of passenger cars including the active and passive restraint systems identified below. The purpose of the standard is to reduce the number of fatalities and the number and severity of injuries to occupants involved in frontal crashes.
Standard No. 209 - Seat Belt Assemblies
This standard specifies requirements for seat belt assemblies. The requirements apply to straps, webbing, or similar material, as well as to all necessary buckles and other fasteners and all hardware designed for installing the assembly in a motor vehicle, and to the installation, usage, and maintenance instructions for the assembly.
Standard No. 210 - Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages
This standard establishes requirements for seat belt assembly anchorages to ensure proper location for effective occupant restraint and to reduce the likelihood of failure. The requirements apply to any component, other than the webbing or straps, involved in transferring seat belt loads to the vehicle structure.
Standard No. 212 - Windshield Mounting
This standard requires that, when tested as described, each windshield mounting must be anchored in place and retain one of two specified percentages of its periphery in a crash situation. The purpose of this standard is to keep vehicle occupants within the confines of the passenger compartment during a crash.
Standard No. 213 - Child Restraint Systems
This standard specifies requirements for child restraint systems used in motor vehicles and aircraft. Its purpose is to reduce the number of children killed or injured in motor vehicle crashes and in aircraft.
Standard No. 214 - Side Impact Protection
This standard specifies performance requirements for protection of occupants in side impact crashes. The purpose of this standard is to reduce the risk of serious and fatal injury to occupants of passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, and buses.
Standard No. 216 - Roof Crush Resistance
This standard specifies requirements for roof crush resistance over the passenger compartment.
Standard 305: In Canadian regulation, passenger cars need to have Electrolyte Spillage and Electrical Shock Protection. However, there was no such regulation in US for passenger cars. S
Standard -215 In Canada regulation, it mentions that passenger cars must have front and rare bumpers to prevent from light speed crash. But standard 215 was not present in the US regulations, though all crash worthiness standards were numbered between 201 and 299 in US document. However, in other place of US regulations, it says about bumper standard, as follows. Part 581 - Bumper Standard - Passenger Motor Vehicles other than Multipurpose Passenger Vehicles. This standard establishes requirements for the impact resistance of vehicles in low speed front and rear collisions. The purpose of this standard is to reduce physical damage to the front and rear ends of a passenger motor vehicle from low speed collisions.
United States Only
Standard No.105: Hydraulic and Electric Brake Systems
This is not applicable for passenger cars in Canada where it is applicable only for Buses, Multi-purpose Vehicles and trucks.
Standard No. 109 - New Pneumatic Tires - Passenger Cars manufactured after 1948
This standard specifies tire dimensions and laboratory test requirements for bead unseating resistance; strength, endurance, and high-speed performance; defines tire load rating; and specifies labelling requirements.
Standard No. 117 - Retreaded Pneumatic Tires - Retreaded Pneumatic Tires for use on Passenger Cars
This standard specifies performance, labelling, and certification requirements for retreaded pneumatic passenger car tires. Its purpose is to require retreaded pneumatic car tires to meet safety criteria similar to those for new pneumatic passenger car tires.
Standard No. 303 - Fuel System Integrity of Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles
This standard specifies requirements for the integrity of motor vehicle fuel systems using compressed natural gas (CNG), including the CNG fuel systems of bi-fuel, dedicated, and dual fuel CNG vehicles. The purpose of this standard is to reduce deaths and injuries occurring from fires that result from fuel leakage during and after motor vehicle crashes.
Further information on Federal Safety Standards:
Transport Canada Motor Vehicle Safety
Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations - Legal
US Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations