President, Saline Electronics, Inc.
13379 Michael Road
Highland, IL 62249
Dear Mr. Echt:
This replies to your letter of January 12, 1995, with respect to Federal requirements for stop lamps as they affect a stop lamp system developed by Saline Electronics.
As you describe the system, "during and after episodes of high, braking-induced deceleration, the system flashes the stop lamps it controls on and off." The stop lamps could either be the original equipment lamps, or one or more supplementary ones.
You have asked the following questions, based upon your understanding of the letter sent by this Office to the Virginia Transportation Research Council ("Virginia") on July 30, 1993:
"1. May states specifically permit (by statute or regulation) the use of deceleration warning systems which are neither original equipment nor replacements for original equipment? For example, may states specifically permit the use of an aftermarket deceleration warning system which a) permits all original equipment stop lamps required by FMVSS No. 108 to operate in a normal steady burning mode, and b) flashes one aftermarket center-mounted stop lamp or two side-mounted stop lamps, on vehicles not required to be so equipped?"
A State may enact a statute or regulation that specifically permits the use of deceleration warning systems that are neither original equipment nor replacements for original equipment if these systems are permissible as original equipment under FMVSS No. 108. As we informed Virginia, a deceleration warning system that is not permissible as original equipment under FMVSS No. 108 would also not be permissible as an aftermarket system because its installation by a person other than the vehicle owner would be in violation of 15 U.S.C. 1397(b)(2) (now recodified as 49 U.S.C.
30122(b)). This section prohibits manufacturers, dealers, distributors and motor vehicle repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device installed on a motor vehicle in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard.
After careful review, it is our opinion that the system you describe is indirectly prohibited by two paragraphs of FMVSS No. 108. Because paragraph S5.5.10(d) of FMVSS No. 108 requires original equipment stop lamps to be steady burning in use, the addition of flashing aftermarket stop lamps make the original equipment stop lamps inoperative within the meaning of the prohibition because of the potential of a flashing lamp for detracting from the full effectiveness of the steady burning original equipment stop lamp signal by drawing an observer's attention away from it. A flashing aftermarket stop lamp also has the potential for confusion with the hazard warning system, whether the original equipment system operates through red or amber lamps.
The second paragraph of FMVSS No. 108 that would prohibit installation of your system as original equipment is S5.1.3. This paragraph prohibits the installation of supplementary lighting equipment that impairs the effectiveness of original lighting equipment.
In summary, 49 U.S.C. 30122(b) effectively prohibits a State from enacting a law permitting the use of your system, unless that system is designed to be installed by the vehicle owner. However, a State may permit the use of any aftermarket deceleration warning system that is allowable under FMVSS No. 108.
"2. In the absence of state regulation of flashing deceleration warning systems, is it lawful for individuals, states or municipalities to install such systems on their vehicles, provided they do not alter the steady burning operation of the original equipment stop lamps required by FMVSS No. 108? For example, may mass transit districts operate buses with flashing deceleration warning lamps, if the systems are installed by their own mechanics and the steady burning operation of the original equipment stop lamps is not altered? May individuals install such equipment on their own vehicles?"
"3. May individuals, states or municipalities, who are not manufacturers, distributors or motor vehicle repairs businesses, lawfully install flashing deceleration warning systems which would prevent the original equipment stop lamps from steadily burning during and after episodes of high, braking-induced deceleration? For example, may a mass transit district install a deceleration warning system which would flash some or all of the original equipment stop lamps during and after rapid deceleration due to hard braking, if the system were installed by its own mechanics?"
The answer to all these questions is yes. As noted under Question 1, Sec. 30122(b)(1) does not prohibit vehicle owners or their employees from installing aftermarket equipment such as flashing lamps that may "make inoperative" (in the sense discussed above) equipment that is required by FMVSS No. 108. In Question 2, the inoperability is created by an indirect effect upon the required lighting equipment, while in Question 3, the required equipment itself as well is made to operate in a manner different than prescribed by FMVSS No. 108. But the answer is the same under Sec. 30122(b)(1) in either case.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel