Justice Breyer, delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case focuses on the 1984 version of a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard promulgated by the Department of Transportation under the authority of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, 80 Stat. 718, 15 U. S. C. § 1381 et seq. (1988 ed.). The standard, FMVSS 208, required auto manufacturers to equip some but not all of their
In 1992, petitioner Alexis Geier, driving a 1987 Honda Accord, collided with a tree and was seriously injured. The car was equipped with manual shoulder and lap belts which Geier had buckled up at the time. The car was not equipped with airbags or other passive restraint devices.
Geier and her parents, also petitioners, sued the car's manufacturer, American Honda Motor Company, Inc., and its affiliates (hereinafter American Honda), under District of Columbia tort law. They claimed, among other things, that American Honda had designed its car negligently and defectively because it lacked a driver's side airbag. App. 3. The District Court dismissed the lawsuit. The court noted that FMVSS 208 gave car manufacturers a choice as to whether to install airbags. And the court concluded that petitioners' lawsuit, because it sought to establish a different safety standard—i. e., an airbag requirement—was expressly preempted by a provision of the Act which pre-empts "any safety standard" that is not identical to a federal safety standard applicable to the same aspect of performance, 15 U. S. C. § 1392(d) (1988 ed.); Civ. No. 95—CV-0064 (D. D. C., Dec. 9, 1997), App. 17. (We, like the courts below and the parties, refer to the pre-1994 version of the statute throughout the opinion; it has been recodified at 49 U. S. C. § 30101 et seq. )
The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court's conclusion but on somewhat different reasoning. It had doubts, given the existence of the Act's "saving" clause, 15 U. S. C. § 1397(k) (1988 ed.), that petitioners' lawsuit involved the potential
Several state courts have held to the contrary, namely, that neither the Act's express pre-emption nor FMVSS 208 preempts a "no airbag" tort suit. See, e. g., Drattel v. Toyota Motor Corp., 92 N.Y.2d 35, 43-53, 699 N.E.2d 376, 379-386 (1998); Minton v. Honda of America Mfg., Inc., 80 Ohio St.3d 62, 70-79, 684 N.E.2d 648, 655-661 (1997); Munroe v. Galati, 189 Ariz. 113, 115-119, 938 P.2d 1114, 1116-1120 (1997); Wilson v. Pleasant, 660 N.E.2d 327, 330-339 (Ind. 1995); Tebbetts v. Ford Motor Co., 140 N.H. 203, 206-207, 665 A.2d 345, 347-348 (1995). All of the Federal Circuit Courts that have considered the question, however, have found pre-emption. One rested its conclusion on the Act's express pre-emption provision. See, e. g., Harris v. Ford Motor Co., 110 F.3d 1410, 1413-1415 (CA9 1997). Others, such as the Court of Appeals below, have instead found preemption under ordinary pre-emption principles by virtue of the conflict such suits pose to FMVSS 208's objectives, and thus to the Act itself. See, e. g., Montag v. Honda Motor Co., 75 F.3d 1414, 1417 (CA10 1996); Pokorny v. Ford Motor Co., 902 F.2d 1116, 1121-1125 (CA3 1990); Taylor v. General Motors Corp., 875 F.2d 816, 825-827 (CA11 1989); Wood v. General Motors Corp., 865 F.2d 395, 412-414 (CA1 1988). We granted certiorari to resolve these differences. We now hold that this kind of "no airbag" lawsuit conflicts with the objectives of FMVSS 208, a standard authorized by the Act, and is therefore pre-empted by the Act.
We first ask whether the Safety Act's express pre-emption provision pre-empts this tort action. The provision reads as follows:
We need not determine the precise significance of the use of the word "standard," rather than "requirement," however, for the Act contains another provision, which resolves the
We have just said that the saving clause at least removes tort actions from the scope of the express pre-emption clause. Does it do more? In particular, does it foreclose or limit the operation of ordinary pre-emption principles insofar as those principles instruct us to read statutes as preempting state laws (including common-law rules) that "actually conflict" with the statute or federal standards promulgated thereunder? Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153 (1982). Petitioners concede, as they must in light of Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280 (1995), that the pre-emption provision, by itself, does not foreclose (through negative implication) "any possibility of implied [conflict] pre-emption," id., at 288 (discussing Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 517-518 (1992)). But they argue that the saving clause has that very effect.
We recognize that, when this Court previously considered the pre-emptive effect of the statute's language, it appeared to leave open the question of how, or the extent to which, the saving clause saves state-law tort actions that conflict with federal regulations promulgated under the Act. See Freightliner, supra, at 287, n. 3 (declining to address whether the saving clause prevents a manufacturer from "us[ing] a federal safety standard to immunize itself from state common-law liability"). We now conclude that the saving clause (like the express pre-emption provision) does not bar the ordinary working of conflict pre-emption principles.
Nothing in the language of the saving clause suggests an intent to save state-law tort actions that conflict with federal regulations. The words "[c]ompliance" and "does not exempt," 15 U. S. C. § 1397(k) (1988 ed.), sound as if they simply bar a special kind of defense, namely, a defense that compliance with a federal standard automatically exempts a defendant from state law, whether the Federal Government meant that standard to be an absolute requirement or only a minimum one. See Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products
Moreover, this Court has repeatedly "decline[d] to give broad effect to saving clauses where doing so would upset the careful regulatory scheme established by federal law." United States v. Locke, ante, at 106-107; see American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Central Office Telephone, Inc., 524 U.S. 214, 227-228 (1998) (AT&T); Texas & Pacific R. Co. v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co., 204 U.S. 426, 446 (1907). We find this concern applicable in the present case. And we conclude that the saving clause foresees—it does not foreclose— the possibility that a federal safety standard will pre-empt a state common-law tort action with which it conflicts. We do not understand the dissent to disagree, for it acknowledges that ordinary pre-emption principles apply, at least sometimes. Post, at 899-900 (opinion of Stevens, J.).
Neither do we believe that the pre-emption provision, the saving provision, or both together, create some kind of "special burden" beyond that inherent in ordinary pre-emption principles—which "special burden" would specially disfavor pre-emption here. Cf. post, at 898-899. The two provisions, read together, reflect a neutral policy, not a specially
On the other hand, the saving clause reflects a congressional determination that occasional nonuniformity is a small price to pay for a system in which juries not only create, but also enforce, safety standards, while simultaneously providing necessary compensation to victims. That policy by itself disfavors pre-emption, at least some of the time. But we can find nothing in any natural reading of the two provisions that would favor one set of policies over the other where a jury-imposed safety standard actually conflicts with a federal safety standard.
Why, in any event, would Congress not have wanted ordinary pre-emption principles to apply where an actual conflict with a federal objective is at stake? Some such principle is needed. In its absence, state law could impose legal duties that would conflict directly with federal regulatory mandates, say, by premising liability upon the presence of the very windshield retention requirements that federal law requires.
The dissent, as we have said, contends nonetheless that the express pre-emption and saving provisions here, taken together, create a "special burden," which a court must impose "on a party" who claims conflict pre-emption under those principles. Post, at 898. But nothing in the Safety Act's language refers to any "special burden." Nor can one find the basis for a "special burden" in this Court's precedents. It is true that, in Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280 (1995), the Court said, in the context of interpreting the Safety Act, that "[a]t best " there is an "inference that an express pre-emption clause forecloses implied pre-emption." Id., at 289 (emphasis added). But the Court made this statement in the course of rejecting the more absolute argument that the presence of the express pre-emption provision entirely foreclosed the possibility of conflict pre-emption. Id., at 288. The statement, headed with the qualifier "[a]t best," and made in a case where, without any need for inferences or "special burdens," state law obviously would survive, see id., at 289-290, simply preserves a legal possibility. This
A "special burden" would also promise practical difficulty by further complicating well-established pre-emption principles that already are difficult to apply. The dissent does not contend that this "special burden" would apply in a case in which state law penalizes what federal law requires—i. e., a case of impossibility. See post, at 892-893, n. 6, 900, n. 16. But if it would not apply in such a case, then how, or when, would it apply? This Court, when describing conflict preemption, has spoken of pre-empting state law that "under the circumstances of th[e] particular case . . . stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress"—whether that "obstacle" goes by the name of "conflicting; contrary to; . . . repugnance; difference; irreconcilability; inconsistency; violation; curtailment; . . . interference," or the like. Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941); see Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 526 (1977). The Court has not previously driven a legal wedge—only a terminological one—between "conflicts" that prevent or frustrate the accomplishment of a federal objective and "conflicts" that make it "impossible" for private parties to comply with both state and federal law. Rather, it has said that both forms of conflicting state law are "nullified" by the Supremacy Clause, De la Cuesta, 458 U. S., at 152-153; see Locke, ante, at 109; English v. General Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 78-79 (1990), and it has assumed that Congress would not want either kind of conflict. The Court
The basic question, then, is whether a common-law "no airbag" action like the one before us actually conflicts with FMVSS 208. We hold that it does.
In petitioners' and the dissent's view, FMVSS 208 sets a minimum airbag standard. As far as FMVSS 208 is concerned, the more airbags, and the sooner, the better. But that was not the Secretary's view. The Department of
The history of FMVSS 208 helps explain why and how DOT sought these objectives. See generally Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. of United States, Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 34-38 (1983). In 1967, DOT, understanding that seatbelts would save many lives, required manufacturers to install manual seatbelts in all automobiles. 32 Fed. Reg. 2408, 2415. It became apparent, however, that most occupants simply would not buckle up their belts. See 34 Fed. Reg. 11148 (1969). DOT then began to investigate the feasibility of requiring "passive restraints," such as airbags and automatic seatbelts. Ibid. In 1970, it amended FMVSS 208 to include some passive protection requirements, 35 Fed. Reg. 16927, while making clear that airbags were one of several "equally acceptable" devices and that it neither "`favored' [n]or expected the introduction of airbag systems." Ibid. In 1971, it added an express provision permitting compliance through the use of nondetachable passive belts, 36 Fed. Reg. 12858, 12859, and in 1972, it mandated full passive protection for all front seat occupants for vehicles manufactured after August 15, 1975, 37 Fed. Reg. 3911. Although the agency's focus was originally on airbags, 34 Fed. Reg. 11148 (1969) (notice of proposed rulemaking); State Farm, 463 U. S., at 35, n. 4; see also id., at 46, n. 11 (noting view of commentators that, as of 1970, FMVSS
DOT gave manufacturers a further choice for new vehicles manufactured between 1972 and August 1975. Manufacturers could either install a passive restraint device such as automatic seatbelts or airbags or retain manual belts and add an "ignition interlock" device that in effect forced occupants to buckle up by preventing the ignition otherwise from turning on. 37 Fed. Reg. 3911 (1972). The interlock soon became popular with manufacturers. And in 1974, when the agency approved the use of detachable automatic seatbelts, it conditioned that approval by providing that such systems must include an interlock system and a continuous warning buzzer to encourage reattachment of the belt. 39 Fed. Reg. 14593. But the interlock and buzzer devices were most unpopular with the public. And Congress, responding to public pressure, passed a law that forbade DOT from requiring, or permitting compliance by means of, such devices. Motor Vehicle and School bus Safety Amendments of 1974, § 109, 88 Stat. 1482 (previously codified at 15 U. S. C. § 1410b(b) (1988 ed.)).
That experience influenced DOT's subsequent passive restraint initiatives. In 1976, DOT Secretary William T. Coleman, Jr., fearing continued public resistance, suspended the passive restraint requirements. He sought to win public acceptance for a variety of passive restraint devices through a demonstration project that would involve about half a million new automobiles. State Farm, supra, at 37. But his successor, Brock Adams, canceled the project, instead amending FMVSS 208 to require passive restraints, principally either airbags or passive seatbelts. 42 Fed. Reg. 34289 (1977).
Andrew Lewis, a new DOT Secretary in a new administration, rescinded the Adams requirements, primarily because DOT learned that the industry planned to satisfy those
Read in light of this history, DOT's own contemporaneous explanation of FMVSS 208 makes clear that the 1984 version of FMVSS 208 reflected the following significant considerations. First, buckled up seatbelts are a vital ingredient of automobile safety. Id., at 29003; State Farm, supra, at 52 ("We start with the accepted ground that if used, seatbelts unquestionably would save many thousands of lives and would prevent tens of thousands of crippling injuries"). Second, despite the enormous and unnecessary risks that a passenger runs by not buckling up manual lap and shoulder belts, more than 80% of front seat passengers would leave their manual seatbelts unbuckled. 49 Fed. Reg. 28983 (1984) (estimating that only 12.5% of front seat passengers buckled up manual belts). Third, airbags could make up for the dangers caused by unbuckled manual belts, but they could not make up for them entirely. Id., at 28986 (concluding that, although an airbag plus a lap and shoulder belt was the most "effective" system, airbags alone were less effective than buckled up manual lap and shoulder belts).
Fourth, passive restraint systems had their own disadvantages, for example, the dangers associated with, intrusiveness of, and corresponding public dislike for, nondetachable automatic belts. Id., at 28992-28993. Fifth, airbags brought with them their own special risks to safety, such as the risk of danger to out-of-position occupants (usually children) in small cars. Id., at 28992, 29001; see also 65 Fed. Reg. 30680, 30681-30682 (2000) (finding 158 confirmed airbag-induced fatalities as of April 2000, and amending rule
Sixth, airbags were expected to be significantly more expensive than other passive restraint devices, raising the average cost of a vehicle price $320 for full frontal airbags over the cost of a car with manual lap and shoulder seatbelts (and potentially much more if production volumes were low). 49 Fed. Reg. 28990 (1984). And the agency worried that the high replacement cost—estimated to be $800—could lead car owners to refuse to replace them after deployment. Id., at 28990, 29000-29001; see also id., at 28990 (estimating total investment costs for mandatory airbag requirement at $1.3 billion compared to $500 million for automatic seatbelts). Seventh, the public, for reasons of cost, fear, or physical intrusiveness, might resist installation or use of any of the then-available passive restraint devices, id., at 28987— 28989—a particular concern with respect to airbags, id., at 29001 (noting that "[a]irbags engendered the largest quantity of, and most vociferously worded, comments").
FMVSS 208 reflected these considerations in several ways. Most importantly, that standard deliberately sought variety—a mix of several different passive restraint systems. It did so by setting a performance requirement for passive restraint devices and allowing manufacturers to choose among different passive restraint mechanisms, such as airbags, automatic belts, or other passive restraint technologies to satisfy that requirement. Id., at 28996. And DOT explained why FMVSS 208 sought the mix of devices that it expected its performance standard to produce. Id., at
The 1984 FMVSS 208 standard also deliberately sought a gradual phase-in of passive restraints. Id., at 28999-29000. It required the manufacturers to equip only 10% of their car fleet manufactured after September 1, 1986, with passive restraints. Id., at 28999. It then increased the percentage in three annual stages, up to 100% of the new car fleet for cars manufactured after September 1, 1989. Ibid. And it explained that the phased-in requirement would allow more time for manufacturers to develop airbags or other, better, safer passive restraint systems. It would help develop information about the comparative effectiveness of different systems, would lead to a mix in which airbags and other nonseatbelt passive restraint systems played a more prominent role than would otherwise result, and would promote public acceptance. Id., at 29000-29001.
Of course, as the dissent points out, post, at 903, FMVSS 208 did not guarantee the mix by setting a ceiling for each different passive restraint device. In fact, it provided a form of extra credit for airbag installation (and other nonbelt passive restraint devices) under which each airbag-installed vehicle counted as 1.5 vehicles for purposes of meeting FMVSS 208's passive restraint requirement. 49 CFR § 571.208, S126.96.36.199(a)(1) (1999); 49 Fed. Reg. 29000 (1984).
Finally, FMVSS 208's passive restraint requirement was conditional. DOT believed that ordinary manual lap and shoulder belts would produce about the same amount of safety as passive restraints, and at significantly lower costs—if only auto occupants would buckle up. See id., at 28997-28998. Thus, FMVSS 208 provided for rescission of its passive restraint requirement if, by September 1, 1989, two-thirds of the States had laws in place that, like those of many other nations, required auto occupants to buckle up (and which met other requirements specified in the standard). Id., at 28963, 28993-28994, 28997-28999. The Secretary wrote that "coverage of a large percentage of the American people by seatbelt laws that are enforced would largely negate the incremental increase in safety to be expected from an automatic protection requirement." Id., at 28997.
In sum, as DOT now tells us through the Solicitor General, the 1984 version of FMVSS 208 "embodies the Secretary's policy judgment that safety would best be promoted if manufacturers installed alternative protection systems in their fleets rather than one particular system in every car." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 25; see 49 Fed. Reg. 28997 (1984). Petitioners' tort suit claims that the manufacturers of the 1987 Honda Accord "had a duty to design, manufacture, distribute and sell a motor vehicle with an effective and safe passive restraint system, including, but not limited to, airbags." App. 3 (Complaint, ¶ 11).
In effect, petitioners' tort action depends upon its claim that manufacturers had a duty to install an airbag when they manufactured the 1987 Honda Accord. Such a state law— i. e., a rule of state tort law imposing such a duty—by its terms would have required manufacturers of all similar cars to install airbags rather than other passive restraint systems, such as automatic belts or passive interiors. It thereby would have presented an obstacle to the variety and mix of devices that the federal regulation sought. It would have required all manufacturers to have installed airbags in respect to the entire District-of-Columbia-related portion of their 1987 new car fleet, even though FMVSS 208 at that time required only that 10% of a manufacturer's nationwide fleet be equipped with any passive restraint device at all. It thereby also would have stood as an obstacle to the gradual passive restraint phase-in that the federal regulation deliberately imposed. In addition, it could have made less likely the adoption of a state mandatory buckle-up law. Because the rule of law for which petitioners contend would have stood "as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of" the important means-related federal objectives that we have just discussed, it is pre-empted. Hines, 312 U. S., at
Petitioners ask this Court to calculate the precise size of the "obstacle," with the aim of minimizing it, by considering the risk of tort liability and a successful tort action's incentive-related or timing-related compliance effects. See Brief for Petitioners 45-50. The dissent agrees. Post, at 900-905. But this Court's pre-emption cases do not ordinarily turn on such compliance-related considerations as whether a private party in practice would ignore state legal obligations—paying, say, a fine instead—or how likely it is that state law actually would be enforced. Rather, this Court's pre-emption cases ordinarily assume compliance with the state-law duty in question. The Court has on occasion suggested that tort law may be somewhat different, and that related considerations—for example, the ability to pay damages instead of modifying one's behavior—may be relevant for pre-emption purposes. See Goodyear Atomic Corp. v. Miller, 486 U.S. 174, 185 (1988); Cipollone, 505 U. S., at 536-539 (Blackmun, J., concurring in part, concurring in judgment in part, and dissenting in part); see also English, 496 U. S., at 86; Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U.S. 238, 256 (1984). In other cases, the Court has found tort law to conflict with federal law without engaging in that kind of an analysis. See, e. g., Ouellette, supra, at 494-497; Kalo Brick, 450 U. S., at 324-332. We need not try to resolve these differences here, however, for the incentive or compliance considerations upon which the dissent relies cannot, by themselves, change the legal result. Some of those considerations rest on speculation, see, e. g., post, at 901 (predicting risk of "no airbag" liability and manufacturers' likely response to such liability); some rest in critical part upon the dissenters' own view of FMVSS 208's basic purposes—a view
One final point: We place some weight upon DOT's interpretation of FMVSS 208's objectives and its conclusion, as set forth in the Government's brief, that a tort suit such as this one would "`stan[d] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution' " of those objectives. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 25-26 (quoting Hines, supra, at 67). Congress has delegated to DOT authority to implement the statute; the subject matter is technical; and the relevant history and background are complex and extensive. The agency is likely to have a thorough understanding of its own regulation and its objectives and is "uniquely qualified" to comprehend the likely impact of state requirements. Medtronic, 518 U. S., at 496; see id., at 506 (Breyer, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). And DOT has explained FMVSS 208's objectives, and the interference that "no airbag" suits pose thereto, consistently over time. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae in Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, O. T. 1994, No. 94-286, pp. 28-29; Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae in Wood v. General Motors Corp., O. T. 1989, No. 89-46, pp. 7, 11-16. In these circumstances, the agency's own views should make a difference. See City of New York v. FCC, 486 U.S. 57, 64 (1988); Hillsborough County v. Automated Medical Laboratories, Inc., 471 U.S. 707, 714, 721 (1985); De la Cuesta, supra, at 158; Blum v. Bacon, 457 U.S. 132, 141 (1982); Kalo Brick, supra, at 321.
The dissent would require a formal agency statement of pre-emptive intent as a prerequisite to concluding that a conflict exists. It relies on cases, or portions thereof, that did not involve conflict pre-emption. See post, at 908-909; California Coastal Comm'n v. Granite Rock Co., 480 U.S. 572, 583 (1987); Hillsborough, supra, at 718. And conflict preemption is different in that it turns on the identification of "actual conflict," and not on an express statement of preemptive intent. English, supra, at 78-79; see Hillsborough, supra, at 720-721; Jones, 430 U. S., at 540-543. While "[p]re-emption fundamentally is a question of congressional intent," English, supra, at 78, this Court traditionally distinguishes between "express" and "implied" pre-emptive intent, and treats "conflict" pre-emption as an instance of the latter. See, e. g., Freightliner, 514 U. S., at 287; English, supra, at 78-79; see also Cipollone, supra, at 545, 547-548 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). And though the Court has looked for a specific statement of preemptive intent where it is claimed that the mere "volume and complexity" of agency regulations demonstrate an implicit intent to displace all state law in a particular area, Hillsborough, supra, at 717; see post, at 908-909, n. 23— so-called "field pre-emption"—the Court has never before required a specific, formal agency statement identifying conflict in order to conclude that such a conflict in fact exists.
Nor do we agree with the dissent that the agency's views, as presented here, lack coherence. Post, at 904-905. The dissent points, ibid., to language in the Government's brief stating that
And the dissent says that these words amount to a concession that there is no conflict in this very case. Post, at 905. But that is not what the words say. Rather, as the italicized phrase emphasizes, they simply leave open the question whether FMVSS 208 would pre-empt a different kind of tort case—one not at issue here. It is possible that some special design-related circumstance concerning a particular kind of car might require airbags, rather than automatic belts, and that a suit seeking to impose that requirement could escape pre-emption—say, because it would affect so few cars that its rule of law would not create a legal "obstacle" to 208's mixed-fleet, gradual objective. But that is not what petitioners
Regardless, the language of FMVSS 208 and the contemporaneous 1984 DOT explanation is clear enough—even without giving DOT's own view special weight. FMVSS 208 sought a gradually developing mix of alternative passive restraint devices for safety-related reasons. The rule of state tort law for which petitioners argue would stand as an "obstacle" to the accomplishment of that objective. And the statute foresees the application of ordinary principles of pre-emption in cases of actual conflict. Hence, the tort action is pre-empted.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
Airbag technology has been available to automobile manufacturers for over 30 years. There is now general agreement on the proposition "that, to be safe, a car must have an airbag." Ante this page. Indeed, current federal law imposes that requirement on all automobile manufacturers. See 49 U. S. C. § 30127; 49 CFR § 571.208, S188.8.131.52 (1998). The question raised by petitioners' common-law tort action is whether that proposition was sufficiently obvious when Honda's 1987 Accord was manufactured to make the failure to install such a safety feature actionable under theories of negligence or defective design. The Court holds that an interim regulation motivated by the Secretary of Transportation's desire to foster gradual development of a variety of passive restraint devices deprives state courts of jurisdiction to answer that question. I respectfully dissent from that holding, and especially from the Court's unprecedented extension of the doctrine of pre-emption. As a preface to an explanation of my understanding of the statute and the regulation, these preliminary observations seem appropriate.
Perhaps such a rule would be a wise component of a legislative reform of our tort system. I express no opinion about
The question presented is whether either the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Safety Act or Act), 80 Stat. 718, 15 U. S. C. § 1381 et seq. (1988 ed.),
Standard 208 covers "[o]ccupant crash protection." Its purpose "is to reduce the number of deaths of vehicle occupants, and the severity of injuries, by specifying vehicle crash worthiness requirements . . . [and] equipment requirements for active and passive restraint systems." 49 CFR § 571.208, S2 (1998). The first version of that standard, issued in 1967, simply required the installation of manual seatbelts in all automobiles. Two years later the Secretary formally proposed a revision that would require the installation of "passive occupant restraint systems," that is to say, devices that do not depend for their effectiveness on any action by the vehicle occupant. The airbag is one such system.
The 1984 standard provided for a phase-in of passive restraint requirements beginning with the 1987 model year. In that year, vehicle manufacturers were required to equip a minimum of 10% of their new passenger cars with such restraints. While the 1987 Honda Accord driven by Ms. Geier was not so equipped, it is undisputed that Honda complied with the 10% minimum by installing passive restraints in certain other 1987 models. This minimum passive restraint requirement increased to 25% of 1988 models and 40% of 1989 models; the standard also mandated that "after September 1, 1989, all new cars must have automatic occupant crash protection." 49 Fed. Reg. 28999 (1984); see 49 CFR § 571.208, S4.1.3—S4.1.4 (1998). In response to a 1991 amendment to the Safety Act, the Secretary amended the standard to require that, beginning in the 1998 model year, all new cars have an airbag at both the driver's and right front passenger's positions.
Given that Secretary Dole promulgated the 1984 standard in response to our opinion invalidating her predecessor's rescission of the 1977 passive restraint requirement, she provided a full explanation for her decision not to require airbags
Although the standard did not require airbags in all cars, it is clear that the Secretary did intend to encourage wider use of airbags. One of her basic conclusions was that "[a]utomatic occupant protection systems that do not totally rely upon belts, such as airbags . . . , offer significant additional potential for preventing fatalities and injuries, at least in part because the American public is likely to find them less intrusive; their development and availability should be encouraged through appropriate incentives." Id., at 28963; see also id., at 28966, 28986 (noting conclusion of both Secretary and manufacturers that airbags used in conjunction with manual lap and shoulder belts would be "the most effective system of all" for preventing fatalities and injuries). The Secretary therefore included a phase-in period in order to encourage manufacturers to comply with the standard by installing airbags and other (perhaps more effective) nonbelt technologies that they might develop, rather than by installing less expensive automatic seatbelts.
Before discussing the pre-emption issue, it is appropriate to note that there is a vast difference between a rejection of Honda's threshold arguments in favor of federal pre-emption and a conclusion that petitioners ultimately would prevail on their common-law tort claims. I express no opinion on the possible merit, or lack of merit, of those claims. I do observe, however, that even though good-faith compliance with the minimum requirements of Standard 208 would not provide Honda with a complete defense on the merits,
The parties have not called our attention to any appellate court opinions discussing the merits of similar no-airbag claims despite the fact that airbag technology was available for many years before the promulgation of the 1984 standard—a standard that is not applicable to any automobiles manufactured before September 1, 1986. Given that an arguable basis for a pre-emption defense did not exist until that standard was promulgated, it is reasonable to infer that the manufacturers' assessment of their potential liability for compensatory and punitive damages on such claims—even
Turning to the subject of pre-emption, Honda contends that the Safety Act's pre-emption provision, 15 U. S. C. § 1392(d), expressly pre-empts petitioners' common-law noairbag claims. It also argues that the claims are in any event impliedly pre-empted because the imposition of liability in cases such as this would frustrate the purposes of Standard 208. I discuss these alternative arguments in turn.
When a state statute, administrative rule, or common-law cause of action conflicts with a federal statute, it is axiomatic that the state law is without effect. U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2; Cipollone v.Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516 (1992). On the other hand, it is equally clear that the Supremacy Clause does not give unelected federal judges carte blanche to use federal law as a means of imposing their own ideas of tort reform on the States.
It is true that in three recent cases we concluded that broadly phrased pre-emptive commands encompassed common-law claims. In Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., while we thought it clear that the pre-emption provision in the 1965 Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act applied only to "rulemaking bodies," 505 U. S., at 518, we concluded that the broad command in the subsequent 1969
The statutes construed in those cases differed from the Safety Act in two significant respects. First, the language in each of those pre-emption provisions was significantly broader than the text of § 1392(d). Unlike the broader language of those provisions, the ordinary meaning of the term "safety standard" includes positive enactments, but does not include judicial decisions in common-law tort cases.
Second, the statutes at issue in Cipollone, CSX, and Medtronic did not contain a saving clause expressly preserving common-law remedies. The saving clause in the Safety Act
The Court does not disagree with this interpretation of the term "safety standard" in § 1392(d). Because the meaning of that term as used by Congress in this statute is clear, the text of § 1392(d) is itself sufficient to establish that the Safety Act does not expressly pre-empt common-law claims. In order to avoid the conclusion that the saving clause is superfluous, therefore, it must follow that it has a different purpose: to limit, or possibly to foreclose entirely, the possible pre-emptive effect of safety standards promulgated by the Secretary. The Court's approach to the case has the practical effect of reading the saving clause out of the statute altogether.
Given the cumulative force of the fact that § 1392(d) does not expressly pre-empt common-law claims and the fact that § 1397(k) was obviously intended to limit the pre-emptive effect of the Secretary's safety standards, it is quite wrong for the Court to assume that a possible implicit conflict with the purposes to be achieved by such a standard should have the same pre-emptive effect "`as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.' " Ante, at 873. Properly construed, the Safety Act imposes a special burden on a party relying on an arguable, implicit conflict with a temporary regulatory policy—
Even though the Safety Act does not expressly pre-empt common-law claims, Honda contends that Standard 208—of its own force—implicitly pre-empts the claims in this case.
In addition, we have concluded that regulations "intended to pre-empt state law" that are promulgated by an agency acting nonarbitrarily and within its congressionally delegated authority may also have pre-emptive force. Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153-154 (1982). In this case, Honda relies on the last of the implied pre-emption principles stated in Freightliner, arguing that the imposition of common-law liability for failure to install an airbag would frustrate the purposes and objectives of Standard 208.
Both the text of the statute and the text of the standard provide persuasive reasons for rejecting this argument. The saving clause of the Safety Act arguably denies the Secretary the authority to promulgate standards that would
Honda argues, and the Court now agrees, that the risk of liability presented by common-law claims that vehicles without airbags are negligently and defectively designed would frustrate the policy decision that the Secretary made in promulgating Standard 208. This decision, in their view, was that safety—including a desire to encourage "public acceptance of the airbag technology and experimentation with better passive restraint systems"
There are at least three flaws in this argument that provide sufficient grounds for rejecting it. First, the entire argument is based on an unrealistic factual predicate. Whatever the risk of liability on a no-airbag claim may have been prior to the promulgation of the 1984 version of Standard 208, that risk did not lead any manufacturer to install airbags in even a substantial portion of its cars. If there had been a realistic likelihood that the risk of tort liability would have that consequence, there would have been no need for Standard 208. The promulgation of that standard certainly did not increase the pre-existing risk of liability. Even if the standard did not create a previously unavailable pre-emption defense, it likely reduced the manufacturers' risk of liability by enabling them to point to the regulation and their compliance therewith as evidence tending to negate charges of negligent and defective design. See Part II, supra. Given that the pre-1984 risk of liability did not lead to widespread airbag installation, this reduced risk of liability was hardly likely to compel manufacturers to install airbags in all cars— or even to compel them to comply with Standard 208 during the phase-in period by installing airbags exclusively.
Second, even if the manufacturers' assessment of their risk of liability ultimately proved to be wrong, the purposes of Standard 208 would not be frustrated. In light of the inevitable
Third, despite its acknowledgment that the saving clause "preserves those actions that seek to establish greater safety than the minimum safety achieved by a federal regulation intended to provide a floor," ante, at 870, the Court completely ignores the important fact that by definition all of the standards established under the Safety Act—like the British regulations that governed the number and capacity of lifeboats aboard the Titanic
My disagreement with Honda and the Government runs deeper than these flaws, however. In its brief, the Government concedes that "[a] claim that a manufacturer should have chosen to install airbags rather than another type of
For these reasons, it is evident that Honda has not crossed the high threshold established by our decisions regarding
The Court apparently views the question of pre-emption in this case as a close one. Ante, at 883 (relying on Secretary's interpretation of Standard 208's objectives to bolster its finding of pre-emption). Under "ordinary experienceproved principles of conflict pre-emption," ante, at 874, therefore, the presumption against pre-emption should control. Instead, the Court simply ignores the presumption,
Our presumption against pre-emption is rooted in the concept of federalism. It recognizes that when Congress legislates "in a field which the States have traditionally occupied . . . [,] we start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U. S., at 230; see Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525 (1977). The signal virtues of this presumption are its placement of the power of pre-emption squarely in the hands of Congress, which is far more suited than the Judiciary to strike the appropriate state/federal balance (particularly in areas of traditional state regulation), and its requirement that Congress speak clearly when exercising that power. In this way, the structural safeguards inherent in the normal operation of the legislative process operate to defend state interests from undue infringement. Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528, 552 (1985); see United States v. Morrison, ante, at 660-663 (Breyer, J., dissenting); Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 93-94 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting); Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 292-293 (1995) (Thomas, J., dissenting); Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 460-464 (1991). In addition, the presumption serves as a limiting principle that prevents federal judges from running amok with our potentially boundless (and perhaps inadequately considered) doctrine of implied conflict pre-emption based on frustration of purposes—i. e., that state law is pre-empted if it "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution
While the presumption is important in assessing the preemptive reach of federal statutes, it becomes crucial when the pre-emptive effect of an administrative regulation is at issue. Unlike Congress, administrative agencies are clearly not designed to represent the interests of States, yet with relative ease they can promulgate comprehensive and detailed regulations that have broad pre-emption ramifications for state law. We have addressed the heightened federalism and nondelegation concerns that agency pre-emption raises by using the presumption to build a procedural bridge across the political accountability gap between States and administrative agencies. Thus, even in cases where implied regulatory pre-emption is at issue, we generally "expect an administrative regulation to declare any intention to pre-empt state law with some specificity."
When the presumption and its underpinnings are properly understood, it is plain that Honda has not overcome the presumption in this case. Neither Standard 208 nor its accompanying commentary includes the slightest specific indication of an intent to pre-empt common-law no-airbag suits. Indeed, the only mention of such suits in the commentary tends to suggest that they would not be pre-empted. See n. 5, supra. In the Court's view, however, "[t]he failure of the Federal Register to address pre-emption explicitly is . . . not determinative," ante, at 884, because the Secretary's consistent litigating position since 1989, the history of airbag regulation, and the commentary accompanying the final version of Standard 208 reveal purposes and objectives of the Secretary that would be frustrated by no-airbag suits. Preempting on these three bases blatantly contradicts the presumption against pre-emption. When the 1984 version of Standard 208 was under consideration, the States obviously were not afforded any notice that purposes might someday be discerned in the history of airbag regulation that would support pre-emption. Nor does the Court claim that the notice of proposed rulemaking that led to Standard 208 provided the States with notice either that the final version of the standard might contain an express pre-emption provision or that the commentary accompanying it might contain a statement of purposes with arguable pre-emptive effect. Finally, the States plainly had no opportunity to comment upon either the commentary accompanying the final version of the standard or the Secretary's ex post litigating position that the standard had implicit pre-emptive effect.
Furthermore, the Court identifies no case in which we have upheld a regulatory claim of frustration-of-purposes implied conflict pre-emption based on nothing more than an ex post administrative litigating position and inferences from
As to the Secretary's litigating position, it is clear that "an interpretation contained in a [legal brief], not one arrived at after, for example, a formal adjudication or notice-andcomment rulemaking[,] . . . do[es] not warrant Chevron -style deference." Christensen v. Harris County, ante, at 587. Moreover, our pre-emption precedents and the APA establish that even if the Secretary's litigating position were coherent, the lesser deference paid to it by the Court today would be inappropriate. Given the Secretary's contention that he has the authority to promulgate safety standards that pre-empt state law and the fact that he could promulgate a standard such as the one quoted supra, at 887, with relative ease, we should be quite reluctant to find preemption based only on the Secretary's informal effort to recast the 1984 version of Standard 208 into a pre-emptive mold.
* * *
Because neither the text of the statute nor the text of the regulation contains any indication of an intent to pre-empt
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States by Theodore B. Olson, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., Thomas G. Hungar, and Robin S. Conrad; for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers et al. by Thomas W. Merrill, Gene C. Schaerr, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Richard A. Cordray; for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association by Anthony F. Shelley and Alan I. Horowitz; for the Defense Research Institute by Kevin M. Reynolds, Robert L. Fanter, Richard J. Kirschman, Lloyd H. Milliken, Jr., Randall R. Riggs, and T. Joseph Wendt; for General Motors Corp. by David M. Heilbron and Leslie G. Landau; for the Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc., by Kenneth S. Geller, Erika Z. Jones, and John J. Sullivan; and for the Washington Legal Foundation by Lawrence S. Ebner, Daniel J. Popeo, and Richard A. Samp.
David Overlook Stewart and Thomas M. Susman filed a brief for the Business Round table as amicus curiae.