Carl E. Peterson, Assistant Director
Public Fire Protection Division
National Fire Protection Association
1 Batterymarch Park
Quincy, MA 02169-7471
Dear Mr. Peterson:
This responds to your inquiry to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concerning requirements for fire apparatus emergency warning lights.
You explained that your organization, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), has promulgated a standard for new automotive fire apparatus (NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus). NFPA 1901 includes requirements for emergency warning lights on fire apparatus for use when the apparatus is responding and calling for the right-of-way.
You said that the technical committee responsible for NFPA 1901 had received a request to modify that standard to allow the lower-level flashing warning lights in the rear of the fire apparatus to burn steady when the service brakes are applied while the apparatus is responding and calling for the right-of-way. The proponent of this idea believes that such an arrangement would make it easier for the driver following the fire apparatus to realize the apparatus is slowing or stopping. You described the proposed modification as an option, [that] would not replace or change any federally required stop lights, tail lights, turn signals, or marking lights. It would only be permitted if the warning lights are red and only during braking operations while calling for the right-of-way.
You requested an interpretation from NHTSA as to whether allowing these emergency warning lights to burn steady (not flash) during braking operations would conflict with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards or any other federal regulations for stop lamps on vehicles. We respond to your question below.
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. FMVSS No. 108 specifies requirements for original and replacement lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment. 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.
Under FMVSS No. 108, certain specified lamps and other lighting equipment for motor vehicles are directly required; additional lamps and lighting equipment may be voluntarily provided but are subject to S5.1.3, which prohibits installation of additional equipment that impairs the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by [the] standard. We also note that S5.5.10(d) of the standard generally requires that all lamps, including auxiliary lighting, must be steady burning, unless otherwise specifically permitted.
In considering how FMVSS No. 108 applies to the lamps at issue, we first examine the current version of the lower-level flashing warning lamps in the rear of the fire apparatus that are activated when the vehicle is responding and calling for the right-of-way. As we understand your letter, these lamps are supplemental lamps provided in addition to the lamps required by FMVSS No. 108. As indicated above, additional lamps are permitted but must not impair the effectiveness of required lighting equipment. We note that FMVSS No. 108 does not specifically list emergency warning lamps for fire and other emergency vehicles as ones that may flash. However, as the agency has explained in previous interpretation letters, we traditionally defer to the judgment of the States as to the installation and use of emergency lighting devices on such state owned or regulated vehicles.
Under the possible revision to NFPA 1901 that you are considering, the lower-level flashing warning lamps in the rear of the fire apparatus could be designed to burn steady when the service brakes are applied while the apparatus is responding and calling for the right-of-way. This would only be permitted if the warning lights are red and only during braking operations while calling for the right-of-way. The effect of this design would be to provide an indication in addition to the required stop lamps that the brakes have been applied.
Recognizing that we traditionally defer to the judgment of the States as to the installation and use of flashing emergency devices on fire apparatus, we have also considered whether the modified design concept you ask about would impair the effectiveness of required lighting equipment. It is our opinion that it would not. In providing this interpretation, we considered the fact that stop lamps are required to be red, and the lamps at issue would also be red. Thus, as a practical matter, the lamps would, in situations where the fire apparatus is responding and calling for the right-of-way, operate as supplemental stop lamps with the same color as the required stop lamps.
We note that, in providing this interpretation, we are not endorsing NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, or the possible change being evaluated.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca Schade of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke