WASHINGTON — Federal regulators have denied a compliance exemption request by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) for equipment installed on its 2020-21 model year Freightliner Cascadia trucks in a ruling that will likely require the company to issue a recall for approximately 24,282 vehicles.

The decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, scheduled to be posted Wednesday, stems from a June 4, 2020, petition (amended twice) by DTNA seeking a decision from NHTSA that the trucks’ hazard warning signal lamps, while not in compliance with federal regulations, should be exempted from customer notification and remedy requirements because the noncompliance is inconsequential as it relates to vehicle safety.

“Specifically, if a subject vehicle is operated at a speed of 20 [mph] or more during the emergency braking phase of an Active Brake Assist (ABA) event, the subject trucks’ hazard warning signal lamps are actuated at a flash rate of 140 flashes per minute when the flash rate should be between 60 and 120 flashes per minute,” according to NHTSA.

“Second, the subject truck automatically activates the hazard warning signal lamps during certain operating conditions, specifically, when the subject truck has progressed to the third phase of an ABA event. Automatic activation of the hazard warning signal lamps is contrary to the definition of the ‘vehicular hazard warning signal operating unit,’ which states it is a driver-controlled device.”

DTNA stated in its application it believed the flash-rate noncompliance is inconsequential to vehicle safety because:

It occurs only in extremely rare situations.

It occurs only for a very short duration.

Even in the cases when it does happen, it helps to reduce potential for rear-end collisions.

In its decision to deny DTNA’s application, NHTSA pointed out the burden of establishing the inconsequentiality of a failure to comply with a performance requirement “is substantial and difficult to meet,” and that it has therefore “not found many such noncompliances inconsequential.”

It also stated that it does not consider the absence of complaints or injuries when determining if a noncompliance is inconsequential to safety. “The absence of complaints does not mean vehicle occupants have not experienced a safety issue, nor does it mean that there will not be safety issues in the future,” NHTSA said.

With regard to the hazard lamp flash rate, NHTSA disagreed that the increased rate during a brake-assist event is negligible. “Rather, the agency believes that the noncompliant flash rate is noticeable and concerning,” it stated. “Notably, the increase in flash rate would not occur if automatic activation of the hazard warning signal lamps were not present.”

Because DTNA was not able to persuade NHTSA, the company “is obligated to provide notification of and free remedy for the noncompliances” as per federal regulation.

Trucking consultant: ‘Larger trend at play’

Asked to comment, P. Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, was “disappointed” in NHTSA’s decision.

“While it’s unfortunate that there are 24,000 trucks out there that need to be recalled to correct this noncompliance, which is a huge hassle for everyone involved, the real tragedy is that it took NHTSA nearly three years to make their decision,” Garney told FreightWaves. “What does this say about our regulatory system and the future of safety technology if a blinking light hangs us up for years?

“There’s a larger trend at play here. As the trucking industry accelerates its adoption of technology to solve safety concerns, will regulators be able to keep up? So far, the answer has been no.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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