Mr. Eike Krochmann
Schefenacker Vision Systems Germany GmbH
Dear Mr. Krochmann:
This responds to your letter regarding the placement of rear lamps and reflectors under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment (FMVSS No. 108). You asked several questions regarding the placement of the rear side reflex reflector and side marker lamp, as well as the necessity of using additional lamps when rear lamps are placed on a tailgate. We are pleased to provide responses to your questions.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue FMVSSs that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment (see 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301). NHTSA does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable safety standards that are in effect on the date of manufacture. NHTSA selects a sampling of new vehicles and equipment each year to determine their compliance with applicable FMVSSs. If our testing or examination reveals an apparent noncompliance, we may require the manufacturer to remedy the noncompliance, and may initiate an enforcement proceeding if necessary to ensure that the manufacturer takes appropriate action.
Your first question asked whether it would be in compliance with FMVSS No. 108 to mount a rear red side marker lamp on a tailgate without installing an additional similar lamp on the body of the car. Our answer is that it would be acceptable. Paragraph S5.3 of FMVSS No. 108, Location of required equipment, states that Table IV contains the location for lighting equipment for multipurpose passenger vehicles and trucks. Table IV specifies that a red side marker lamp must be located as far to the rear as practicable. Thus, if the tailgate extends to the edge of the vehicle, a side marker lamp located on the tailgate would meet that requirement, and require no additional rear side marker lamp.
Your question also brings up the issue of whether the tailgate constitutes a rigid part of the vehicle, as required by paragraph S5.3. It is our opinion that it does. We would consider the tailgate to be a rigid part of the vehicle, and note that this specification was adopted primarily to forestall installation of rear reflex reflectors on mud flaps.
In your other question, you note that for the same car design, the tailgate covers the complete rear and there is no possibility to mount the rear lamps on the car body. You indicate that the rear lamps meet the requirements of Standard No. 108 when the tailgate is closed, and ask if you are required to install another set of compliant rear lamps for use when the tailgate is open. The answer is that this is not necessary. With regard to tailgates, when we judge whether a vehicle meets the location and visibility requirements of Standard No. 108, we determine compliance of the vehicle in what appears to us to be its normal operating or driving position. The normal driving position of a vehicle with a tailgate is with the tailgate in the closed position, and use of a vehicle with the tailgate not closed is likely to be infrequent compared with its use with the tailgate closed. As long as your lamps are compliant while the tailgate is in the closed position, we would consider that compliant with Standard No. 108.
If you have any further questions, please contact Ari Scott of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke
 7/12/00 letter to Gary King, available at http://isearch.nhtsa.gov.