Motor Vehicle Safety Oversight Program

Oversight Guidelines – Motor Vehicle Safety

Transport Canada
Date: November 2021
RDIMS #: 17234805

Record of Amendments:

Amendment No. Date Pages Affected Date Entered Initials

This document is for guidance only. It doesn’t replace or modify the Motor Vehicle Safety Act or related regulations.

If there’s a difference between this document and the act or regulations, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the regulations prevail.

Table of Contents

Oversight Guidelines – Motor Vehicle Safety


These guidelines outline Transport Canada’s oversight role as it relates to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and its regulations, and the general responsibilities and obligations of industry, and members of the public in reference to the act’s requirements.

Guiding Principles

The following principles guide our approach and underpin our policies, processes and procedures:

  • Safety and Security Focus – focus on protecting Canadians and the travelling public against loss of life or damage to health, property and the environment resulting from the use of vehicles, tires and child car seats
  • Risk-based Approach – review and analyze safety risks to focus activities on areas that present the greatest concern, taking action, first, to reduce the risk of harm to the public when necessary, and, second, to take appropriate corrective action when necessary
  • Clear, Consistent, Predictable and Fair - conduct oversight across Canada transparently and objectively so that the actions have a legislative or regulatory foundation and that the rights or legitimate expectations of any person are not negatively affected by pre-conception or bias
  • Compliance-focused, graduated enforcement – when non-compliance is identified, take enforcement action that is commensurate with the severity of the offence or violation, and sufficiently deters a recurrence
  • Collaboration and Engagement – work collaboratively with industry, provincial and territorial authorities, other federal government entities, non-governmental organizations and foreign governments to improve the shared objective to improve road safety
  • Continuous Improvement – use information to improve safety standards and oversight practices


In Canada, safe road transportation is a responsibility shared between federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments. The federal government sets the minimum safety requirements for new vehicles and certain products entering the Canadian market and oversees safety recalls. The provinces and territories are responsible for driver licensing, vehicle registration and use.

To this end, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act was enacted to regulate the manufacture and importation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment to reduce the risk of death, injury and damage to property and the environment. The act regulates three types of products:

  • Vehicles which fall under a prescribed class (vehicles)
  • Tires which fall under a prescribed class (tires)
  • Child car seats and certain types of equipment for use in the restraint of disabled persons (child car seats)

Under the act, three regulations exist:

  • Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations, which apply to vehicles
  • Motor Vehicle Tire Safety Regulations, which apply to tires
  • Motor Vehicle Restraint Systems and Booster Seats Safety Regulations, which apply to child car seats and certain types of equipment for use in the restraint of disabled persons

The act and regulations contain the requirements that apply to people and companies that import, distribute or manufacture these products.

Within these regulations, several Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) are also referenced. The CMVSS prescribe the minimum performance levels that products must meet. Different CMVSS standards apply depending on vehicle, tire or child car seat type or class. These standards may include other reference documents, such as Transport Canada-approved Motor Vehicle Safety Test Methods, Technical Standards Documents or third-party published test methodologies. Such documents help clarify which tests apply, and how they are to be done.

To promote the introduction of innovative technologies or safety features, a company can be exempted from Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, in whole or in part, provided that the exemption does not substantially diminish the overall safety of the model. Exemptions can only be given for vehicles and apply for a limited time period. Additional information is available here.

How requirements apply to companies

The requirements of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act are different depending on what a person or company is doing. Under the Act, some corporations and enterprises are subject to specific requirements:

  • Manufacturers of vehicles, tires or child car seats that are shipped inter-provincially, or bear the National Safety Mark
  • Distributors, who obtain vehicles, tires or child car seats from those manufacturers, and sell them to other persons (usually dealers) for the purpose of resale, and
  • Importers of vehicles, tires or child car seats into Canada for the purpose of sale

The act uses the term “company” to identify these three types of entities. While these are usually corporations or enterprises, an individual that engages in these actions could be considered a “company” under the act.


As a company that manufactures vehicles, tires or child car seats for the Canadian market, you must make sure that your product meets Canada’s requirements.

To do this, you need to test and document all regulated aspects of the vehicles, tires or child car seats you produce. Once your tests show that your product complies with Canada’s safety requirements, you can mark the product to show that it meets the requirements of the act.

This process is known as certification, and the records produced through this process would be referred to as certification records. You must supply these records to an inspector when asked. You must keep these records for at least 5 years after the date that the product was made or imported.

The National Safety Mark

Once your tests show that your product complies with Canada’s safety requirements, you can mark the product to show that it meets the requirements of the act. In some cases, you may mark your product with Canada’s National Safety Mark.

The National Safety Mark is a Government of Canada trademark. If you’d like to use the mark, you must apply for permission.


  • New vehicles manufactured in Canada and shipped between provinces must include the National Safety Mark on or beside the compliance label
  • Imported vehicles can use a prescribed statement on the compliance label instead of the National Safety Mark
  • If you manufacture or import vehicles: you must also include a compliance label to show that the vehicle complies with the relevant standards


  • Tires manufactured in Canada and shipped between provinces must have a National Safety Mark moulded into them
  • Imported tires must be accompanied by a written declaration from the manufacturer or its duly authorized representative that the tire meets the standards for a tire of that class at the time the tire it was made

Child car seats

  • Whether imported or manufactured in Canada, child car seats and some equipment used to secure peoples with disabilities must have a National Safety Mark and a product information label


Through your certification records, you must be able to prove that all vehicles, tires or child car seats you produce for Canada comply with applicable requirements. This does not necessarily require that every product be tested, but you must be able to show a clear link between your tests and your production, which allows a Transport Canada inspector to verify compliance.

For example, you could show that vehicles built on a common platform which share critical features meet requirements by testing a representative sample of one of the models. The results of the test(s) could then be extended to cover the other models built on the same platform. The same approach could also be used for vehicles of different model years if you can establish the same link. You may also benefit from allowing a “safety margin” in your testing, to allow for test variables and manufacturing tolerances, or to find the “worst case scenario” - the model or variation of your product that would perform the worst in testing, and test it.

In cases where components or designs are shared between your and other companies, a representative product can sometimes be tested and the test records used by all parties, provided that it can be shown that the test sample represents your production. This is often done though industry associations and has proven cost-effective for certain limousine, wheelchair-accessible vehicle, truck and air-braked trailer manufacturers.

Similarly, for vehicles manufactured in multiple stages (such as trucks), certification testing performed by first-stage manufacturers (also known as Original Equipment Manufacturers or OEMs) or component suppliers (lamps, axles, brakes, etc.) can often be used by intermediate and final-stage manufacturers, provided that they do not modify the vehicle or component in a manner that invalidates the original certification.

While engineering analyses, computer simulations and other methodologies are useful tools in design and development, they cannot be used to replace the tests prescribed by regulation. Transport Canada considers the results obtained in certification testing conducted as per specified tests and testing methodologies to be the only way to prove that vehicles, tires and child car seats comply with the prescribed standards.

Foreign Manufacturers

If you do not manufacture your vehicles, tires or child car seats in Canada, many of the responsibilities under the act will apply to the company or companies that import your products. Inspectors may request certification documents or other information from importers during an inspection, audit, or defect investigation. You must ensure these documents are available to them.


If your company becomes aware of safety defects or non-compliance in your products intended for Canada, you are required to report it to Transport Canada through a Notice of Non-Compliance or Notice of Defect, and to notify all affected owners. While we accept notices directly from foreign manufacturers, the responsibility for ensuring that these are filed rests on the importer.


If your company imports vehicles, tires or child car seats into Canada for resale, you assume many of the foreign manufacturer’s responsibilities:

  • Compliance: You must ensure that the products you import meet TC requirements
  • Records: You must be able to produce certification records for the products allowing an inspector to determine compliance (these are usually obtained from the manufacturer)
  • Recalls: In the event that a safety defect or non-compliance is identified, you are required to recall the products you imported

Collaboration between importers and manufacturers is key to meeting these obligations.


If your company purchases vehicles, tires or child car seats from a manufacturer, and resells them to others for their resale, you are considered a distributor under the act. You must:

  • ensure that the products you distribute meet TC requirements
  • Be able to produce certification records for the products allowing an inspector to determine compliance (these are usually obtained from the manufacturer)
  • Recalls: In the event that a safety defect or non-compliance is identified, you are required to recall the products you have distributed, if they are not recalled by the manufacturer

Collaboration between distributors and manufacturers is key to meeting these obligations.

How do the requirements apply to persons

Individuals, corporations or enterprises that are not considered “companies” under the Act are referred to as “persons”. Persons can only import products into Canada in specific circumstances:

Vehicles imported from the United States or Mexico

Many vehicles built to U.S. standards, and sold both in Mexico and the United States, are similar to those sold in Canada. For this reason, the act allow persons to import certain vehicles that do not comply with Canadian safety standards if the vehicle:

  • was purchased at the retail level in the United States or is a prescribed class of used vehicle from Mexico
  • was originally manufactured to comply with U.S. safety standards, and
  • can be modified to comply with Canadian standards; and that any outstanding recalls are completed

These vehicles must be imported through a program administered by the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV), a private company, contracted by Transport Canada. More information is available here.

Temporary importations

In certain cases, persons can temporarily import non-compliant vehicles, tires and child car seats from other countries:

Restrictions apply to these importations and the vehicles, tires or child car seats must eventually be exported or destroyed. Additional information is available here.

Unregulated vehicles

Vehicles manufactured over 15 years ago (based on the month and year of manufacture), and buses manufactured before January 1st,1971, are exempt from most requirements under the act, and can be imported even if they are from countries other than the United States or Mexico. More information is available here. Also, vehicles that are not intended for use on public roads and that have a maximum speed of 32 km/h are not regulated under the act. More information is available here.

Other importations

Vehicles, tires or child car seats manufactured and designed for sale in countries other than Canada normally don’t meet Canadian requirements and cannot be modified to meet them. For this reason, the act prohibits the importation of foreign vehicles, tires or child car seats (other than as above). Transport Canada cannot relieve persons from importation requirements, nor are there hardship provisions for these requirements.

What to do:

If you would like to import a vehicle, tire or child car seat, you should:

  • Find out if it is admissible before you import it
  • Complete required documentation and inspections –Complete forms, RIV inspections and TC declarations promptly
  • Cooperate with Transport Canada inspectors
  • Comply with any reporting and exportation/destruction requirements

How Transport Canada oversees the Motor Vehicle Safety Act

Roles and responsibilities

The Minister of Transport has many powers and authorities to verify companies’ and persons’ compliance with the act, regulations and standards, and to take action where a risk to the public is identified. Many of these authorities are delegated to other Transport Canada employees.

Automotive Inspectors have the most frequent and regular contact with persons and companies regulated by the act. They are designated by the Minister and carry a certificate of designation and a badge, which they must produce upon request. There are three types of inspectors:

  • compliance inspectors – verify compliance with the requirement of the act and regulations
  • defect investigators - investigate alleged safety-related defects
  • recall officers – oversee recalls and monitor compliance with associated requirements

Inspectors also work to identify public risks and can recommend orders to mitigate them. When they detect non-compliance with the Act or regulations, they would take or recommend appropriate enforcement action.

Inspectors may not be compelled to give testimony in any civil suit, with regard to information obtained by them in the discharge of their duties, without the Minister’s written permission. They would also not intervene or negotiate with companies on behalf of individual consumers with respect to service, warranties or other disputes.

Enforcement officers are also designated by the Minister and carry a certificate of designation, which they must produce upon request. Their role is to investigate violations and obtain supporting evidence for Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs).


Transport Canada makes sure that companies and people comply with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act through:

  • compliance tests
  • compliance inspections and audits
  • defect investigations, and
  • recalls oversight

Compliance tests

Transport Canada tests vehicles, tires and child car seats to verify that they meet requirements. Samples to be tested are purchased from retailers to ensure they represent products offered for sale to the public. As it is not possible to test every make and model of vehicle, tire and child car seat, we select samples on factors such as:

  • market penetration
  • new technologies
  • new product lines
  • complaints
  • performance in previous tests

While Transport Canada does most compliance tests, inspectors can order a manufacturer, importer or distributor to run a compliance test and share the results.

Compliance inspections and audits

In an audit, an inspector will review a company’s certification records and data remotely. Inspections are done in-person and on-site, and inspectors may inspect vehicles, tires or child car seats to determine whether they comply with Canada’s requirements. Inspectors may also check that certification records and recordkeeping practices comply. While Inspectors will generally contact you before an on-site visit, they can also make unplanned visits.

Foreign-manufactured products may be inspected as they’re imported, with the help of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). More information on the CBSA can be found here. A person or company may not be able to import vehicles or equipment until they can show that they comply with Canada’s requirements.

Defect investigations

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act requires that, upon becoming aware of a safety defect, companies must notify the Minister and owners, and correct the defect. This is done though a “Notice of Defect”, commonly known as a “recall”.

Transport Canada documents and analyzes complaints of safety defects that come from the general public and many other sources. Complaints can be submitted online or by phone. If the complainant agrees, their complaint may be shared with the company.

To further assess and understand issues, Transport Canada may open a formal defect investigation. Findings from investigations can lead to companies issuing safety recalls.

In some cases, it can be difficult to determine if a defect poses a safety risk. A defect must meet specific criteria to be considered a safety defect. Learn what is considered a safety defect.

Look up defect investigations of vehicles, tires and child car seats


When a manufacturer, importer or distributor issues a recall, Recall Officers verify that their actions and the notice comply with applicable requirements.

Recall Officers also notify provincial and territorial authorities of the recall, and update the Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls Database. Transport Canada does not issue recall notices, but does share ones issued by companies.

Recall officers analyze how effective a recall is by auditing the repair, the methods used to record and contact owners of affected products, and the number of corrected vehicles.

If Recall Officer finds that a company’s recall actions are inadequate, they can start a process to order the company to improve the recall. More information on orders is provided below.

Limiting harm through Orders

When an issue that could pose a risk is found in products that have been manufactured, imported or sold, a recall is used to repair, modify or remove the product from the market.

Under the Act, the Minister of Transport has the authority to order companies to address public risks. These orders fall into three types:

  • Orders which force a company to issue a new recall
  • Orders which force a company to improve an existing recall
  • Orders which force a company to stop the sale of recalled products

Whenever Transport Canada encounters a product which could be defective or fail to meet applicable safety standards, we always notify the company that manufactured, imported or distributed the product first. This usually leads to the company voluntarily correcting the issue through a recall.

If a company does not act quickly to address a safety issue, the Minister may proceed with an order. Some orders can be issued right away, but some require the public to be notified and consulted before a decision is made. This is called a preliminary determination.

Through this process, the company will be notified that an order is being considered, and why, and will be asked to provide a written response. The details of the order will be posted on Transport Canada’s website for public comment. All relevant responses and comments are taken into consideration before an order is issued through a final decision.

Look up preliminary determinations and final decisions

Orders can be modified or revoked based on new information. If an order is necessary, it may be followed by enforcement action.

The Federal Court would also review the Minister’s decision to issue an order, if contested. More information on the Federal Court can be found here.


The objective of Transport Canada’s enforcement policy is to:

  • Enforce all programs consistently;
  • Encourage compliance and improve safety, security and efficiency; and
  • Promote a healthy, environmentally responsible transportation system.

The Motor Vehicle Safety program shares responsibility for enforcement with Transport Canada’s national enforcement program - The Center for Enforcement Expertise (CEE).

Transport Canada employs a graduated enforcement approach. This is where enforcement action is always commensurate with the offence or violation. If a penalty is too weak, it may not discourage a company or person from committing the violation or contravention again. If it is too severe, especially where a company or person collaborates with Transport Canada or voluntarily discloses the issue, it may cause them to change their approach or behavior in the future. The process is the same in other transportation modes of Transport Canada, and uses seven factors to rate the severity of the non-compliance:

Harm or risk The harm or risk posed by the non-compliance
Degree of negligence or deliberateness How negligent was the company or person?
Was the non-compliance deliberate or accidental?
Compliance History Whether the company or person has a history of past non-compliance
Economic Benefit Whether the non-compliance caused the company to benefit financially, or derive a competitive advantage
Mitigation of harm How the company or person acted to mitigate the risks once the issue was detected
Cooperation with TC The level of cooperation with Transport Canada in relation to the non-compliance
Detection of contravention Whether company or person reported the non-compliance, if it was discovered jointly, or discovered by Transport Canada alone

Once the severity of the non-compliance has been assessed, we would determine which tool would be appropriate in order to address the issue:


Counselling can be given verbally or in writing. Its purpose is to draw attention to a non-compliance, and inform a company or person of the requirements and TC expectations. Through counselling, TC officials would confirm that the company or person understands the non-compliance, and that they have taken action to correct the issue and/or prevent reoccurrence.


Warnings are issued in writing, in the form of a letter. Their purpose is to draw attention to the non-compliance, and inform a company or person of the penalties for continued or recurring non-compliance.

Administrative Monetary Penalty (AMPs) - Not yet in Force

AMPs are not currently in force under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The regulations required to bring the authority into force are being developed. They are used in several other transportation modes at Transport Canada, and function on the same core principles:

  • AMPs are civil financial penalties, which may be issued in a variety of situations, ranging from minor to severe non-compliance;
  • The maximum penalty amount that can be issued in relation to each violation is defined by regulation;
  • TC officials can adjust penalty amounts (not exceeding the maximums set by regulation) to ensure that the penalty matches the severity of the violation.

Violations which may result in AMPs are usually investigated by Transport Canada’s national enforcement program - The Centre for Enforcement Expertise (CEE). AMPs are issued through a Notice of Violation, in the form of a letter.

Should a company or person be given and Administrative Monetary Penalty and choose to appeal, the appeal would be heard through a hearing at the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. The Tribunal's jurisdiction is provided for under the act. More information on the TATC can be found here.

It is Transport Canada’s policy to post all AMPs issued on its website.


Prosecutions involve charges being brought against a person or company by the Public Prosecution Service (PPSC) of Canada, which prosecutes criminal offenses under federal jurisdiction. Prosecutions are normally used when a non-compliance is severe.

Should a non-compliance that warrants prosecution be encountered, it would be investigated by the CEE. The CEE would present information and make recommendations regarding prosecutions to the PPSC, which decides whether to proceed with a prosecution. More information on the PPSC can be found here.

The Federal Court renders the final decision on the outcome of a prosecution under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, including what penalty to impose. The maximum penalties and court orders that can be sentenced in relation to a prosecution are defined in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The penalty amounts and details of court orders would be determined in sentencing upon a finding of guilt by a judge or jury. A person that is convicted would also get a criminal record. More information on the Federal Court can be found here.

Revocation - National Safety Mark (NSM)

A company’s NSM can be revoked as an enforcement measure or to limit risk by preventing a company from shipping or selling defective or non-compliant vehicles, tires or child car seats in Canada. It is normally used when a company refuses to cooperate with Transport Canada. When the NSM is revoked, Transport Canada would also notify the provincial government of the province where the company is located. The revocation can also be combined with another enforcement action.

Consent Agreements

As an alternative to the enforcement actions listed above, the Minister of Transport has the authority to enter into a consent agreement when a company or person has, or is believed to have, contravened the act or Regulations. In the agreement, the company or person and Transport Canada agree to specific terms and conditions, such as corrective actions, to address the safety risk posed by the violation, promote a safety culture, and deter future violations. The contents are mutually agreed upon. Completed consent agreements are registered in court, after which they are binding. Failure to abide by the terms and conditions is considered a violation of a Federal Court order, and is enforceable at the level of the Federal Court. More information on consent agreements can be found here, and information on the Federal Court can be found here.

Compliance History

Whenever enforcement action is taken, it is recorded on a company or person’s record of compliance history and may impact the severity of future enforcement action, especially if the same non-compliance occurs again.

More information

More information on the Motor Vehicle Safety program is available here:


Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety web page

Contact us

Send questions about this document or its contents to Transport Canada’s Multimodal and Road Safety Programs.

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Telephone: 1-800-333-0371 (toll-free) or 1-613-998-8616