The development at international level of technical requirements for the type-approval of motor vehicles is done by the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations, a subsidiary body of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE/WP.29).
This World Forum administers a number of international Agreements related to safety, environmental and energy performance of motor vehicles. The 1958 Agreement is the most important one, as it provides the international framework for the adoption of uniform technical prescriptions for wheeled vehicles and for the reciprocal recognition of vehicle approvals granted on the basis of these prescriptions.
The European Union and its Member States have always been at the forefront of international harmonisation efforts, by actively supporting the work within the 1958 Agreement of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on international technical harmonisation in the motor vehicle sector.
Having become a Contracting Party to the Revised 1958 Agreement in March 1998, the EU consolidated the close links that already existed between the European directives and UNECE Regulations in the field of motor vehicles. Through its active participation in the harmonisation process, the EU ensures the necessary coherence between the regulatory activities in the UNECE and those being conducted at Community level, i.e. between global regulations and the EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval (WVTA) system and its directives.
Japan's accession to the 1958 Agreement (in 1998) and that of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa strengthen the process of international harmonisation that takes place in this forum.
In addition to the Revised 1958 Agreement the EU negotiated a new international agreement, known as the 1998 Global Agreement. Its purpose is to further enhance the process of international harmonisation by the development of global technical regulations (GTR) which may also cover countries which are not contracting parties to the 1958 Agreement.
The Global Agreement entered into force in August 2000. This agreement applies in parallel to the 1958 Agreement, and like the latter it operates under the auspices of the UNECE. Both instruments have the same scope as far as the establishment of harmonised technical regulations on motor vehicles and parts is concerned, but the Global Agreement does not provide for the mutual recognition of approvals granted on the basis of global technical regulations. With regard to the decision-making process, the Global Agreement is based on consensus, as a general rule, whereas the 1958 Agreement relies on majority voting for the adoption of regulations. In addition, unlike the regulations adopted under the 1958 Agreement, those adopted under the Global Agreement do not have direct effect in the Contracting Parties' legal systems.
The Commission also has bilateral contacts with relevant authorities in China, Japan, South Korea and USA to seek common solutions to regulatory issues.
Informal working groups on electric vehicles
The introduction of electrical cars will get a further boost with an international agreement which was signed in Geneva (Switzerland) on 17 November 2011. The partners agreed to closely cooperate on convergence of regulatory obligations related to electric vehicles in the global context. This will lead to cost savings through economies of scale for automotive manufacturers. Currently they only produce relatively small volumes of electric vehicles in different world regions. Under the proposed cooperating agreement two onformal working groups on electric vehicles will be set up.
The first group will focus on the safety aspects of electric vehicles and their components, including the battery. It will cover the safety of occupants against electric shocks in-use, while recharging as well as after an accident. The second group will address environmental regulations applied to electric vehicles. The proposal for setting up the two informal working groups on electric vehicles (EVs) comes at the initiative of the European Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan.
UNECE informal document: Proposal for establishment of two informal working groups addressing the safety and environmental requirements for electric vehicles to enhance regulatory cooperation including developing Global Technical Regulations in the framework of the 1998 Agreement