C. Timothy Parker, Assistant Director
Department of Facilities and Transportation Services
Office of Transportation Services
Fairfax County Public Schools
8101 Lorton Road
Lorton, VA 22079
Dear Mr. Parker:
This responds to your request for an interpretation as to whether additional optional red and amber warning lights for the left and right sides of a school bus you are considering for the Commonwealth of Virginia would be allowed on new school buses. Our answer is no.
In your letter, you state that Fairfax County Public Schools is seeking state approval in Virginia to test the additional warning lights. You explain that there are a high number of bus stops at or near intersections where motorists approaching from the right or left of a school bus do not see the warning lamps or stop sign on the school bus. You note that lamps currently specified for school buses are all aimed towards the traffic approaching from the front and rear only.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA has used this authority to issue FMVSS No. 108, Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment. This agency does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, nor do we endorse any commercial products. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable standards. Also, it is unlawful for dealers to sell motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment that do not meet applicable standards.
FMVSS No. 108 specifies motor vehicle lighting equipment required for all motor vehicles. FMVSS No. 108 requires at S5.1.4 that school buses (other than multifunction school activity buses) shall meet one of two options. The first option is to have a system of four red signal lamps designed to conform to SAE Standard J887,
School Bus Red Signal Lamps, July 1964, and installed in accordance with that standard. The second option is to have the four red signal lamps designed to conform to SAE Standard J887 (July 1964) plus four amber signal lamps designed to conform to SAE Standard J887 except for their color and a candlepower at least 2 times that specified for red signal lamps. Both the red and amber lamps are installed in accordance with SAE Standard J887, with exceptions specified at S5.1.4(b)(i) and (ii).
We have addressed the issue of optional red and amber warning lights for the left and right sides of a school bus in an interpretation letter of May 22, 2003, to Mr. J. Adam Krugh, IV, inventor of the ALLSTOP (copy enclosed). The ALLSTOP is a traffic control device developed for school buses, intended to be used to warn drivers at intersections of the presence of children. In that letter, we stated that:
As we have said before, traffic safety is enhanced by the familiarity of drivers with established lighting schemes, which facilitates their ability to instantly and unhesitatingly recognize the meaning lamps convey and respond to them. The required school bus signal lamp system provides an important and standardized message. It is our opinion that the addition of a novel signal lamp that rises at the same time as the school bus signal lamp system activates would divert a drivers attention from the required signal lamps and cause confusion with respect to their meaning, and thereby impair the effectiveness of the required lamps.
Under Standard No. 108, non-standard lighting equipment is prohibited on new vehicles if it impairs the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108 (See S.5.1.3). In addition, with respect to the aftermarket, 49 U.S.C. 30122 has the effect of requiring that the installation of any aftermarket vehicle lamp, by a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business, must not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on a vehicle in accordance with Standard No. 108.
With regard to the additional left and right side lights you ask about, we believe that they could similarly divert a drivers attention from the required signal lamps and confuse drivers as to whether they are meant to stop, partly because the lights would add an unfamiliar dimension to a standardized system. Also, the placement of the red lights near the front of the bus (as depicted in your letter) could cause confusion as to the orientation of the vehicle, thus impairing the effectiveness of the color code of the required side marker lamps.
Please note that the make inoperative provision does not apply to owners making changes to their vehicles. Thus, changes made by Fairfax County employees to school buses owned by the County would not be affected by the make inoperative provision. However, we would urge owners not to degrade the safety features of their vehicles.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke