President, Goble Enterprises
P.O. Box 423
Lake Mary, FL 32795
Dear Mr. Goble:
This is in reply to your letter of May 16, 1994, with respect to two motor vehicle lighting systems that you have developed, and your question about the regulations that may apply to each.
As we understand the first system, when the brake pedal is applied, the front turn signal lamps and front side marker lamps are simultaneously activated to indicate to observers from the front and side that the vehicle is braking. It appears that this activation is in a steady burning state which continues unless and until the turn signal lamps are activated in either the flashing turn signal or hazard warning signal more. You have also developed a "Wheel Well lighting system", which "will provide light indicators all around (brake, clearance, turn signal, emergency flashers)" through amber lamps mounted in the well at the top of each front and rear wheel opening. As we understand this system, these supplementary lamps will be activated simultaneously when the four named lamp systems are activated.
The regulation governing the lighting on new motor vehicles (i.e., requirements that must be met when a new vehicle is delivered to its first purchaser) is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108. With respect to optional equipment such as your systems, Standard No. 108 allows each, provided that each does not impair the effectiveness of the lighting equipment required by the standard. The law governing the lighting on motor vehicles after their first sale is the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. In essence, it allows installation of each of your systems by a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business as long as the system does not "knowingly render inoperative, in whole or part, any device or element of design installed in accordance with" Standard No. 108.
We regard any supplemental lighting system with the potential of creating confusion in the eye of the beholder as one that impairs the effectiveness of other lamps on the vehicle, and
one that renders inoperative, in part at least, other lamps by compromising their effectiveness. This is especially true when existing vehicle lamps are used to convey messages that are different from the purpose of those lamps. We believe it especially important to motor vehicle safety that signal lamps convey their message unmistakably and without ambiguity. We see no real problem that might be occasioned by the activation of the front turn signal lamps in a steady burning mode, although this might cause initial puzzlement in the eye of an oncoming driver unfamiliar with the system. While confusion is more likely when the turn signal is operating on one side while the other side remains steady burning, we believe that the flashing of the turn signal will continue to be interpreted as an intention to turn. Of course, when the hazard warning system is activated and completely overrides the steady burning front stop lamp, there would be no confusion as to signal message. Therefore, in our opinion, Federal law permits use of your front stop lamp system.
Your second system does not operate through existing vehicle lamps but consists of additional lamps mounted in the wheel wells. These lamps would appear not to have the potential of confusion since they supplement existing lamps and operate in conjunction with them to convey the same message. Thus, Federal law, in our view, does not preclude use of your second system either.
However, even if a supplementary lighting system is permissible under Federal law, it is subject to regulation by any State in which it is operated. We are not able to advise you with respect to State law, and suggest that you write for an opinion to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Va. 22203.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel ref:108#VSA d:6/29/94