Manager, Vehicle Regulations
Volkswagen of America, Inc.
3000 Hamlin Road
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
Dear Mr. Haenchen:
This responds to your letter of March 6, 1995, asking for an interpretation of the license plate requirements of Standard No. 108.
SAE J587 OCT81 is the SAE standard that has been incorporated by reference into Standard No. 108 for license plate lamps. You ask for confirmation of your interpretation that "paragraph 6.1 of SAE J587, which relates solely to the mounting angle of the license plate and not to the performance of the license plate lamp, is not included in the requirements of FMVSS 108." This paragraph requires that, when the license plate lamp is mounted on the vehicle, the angle between the plane of the license plate and the plane on which the vehicle stands will be 90 degrees plus or minus 15 degrees. You believe that "license plate mounting for visibility is a matter of concern for State law enforcement agencies and Volkswagen is not aware of any State laws that make reference to SAE J587 or that specify the mounting angle of the license plate." However, you acknowledge "that paragraphs 6.5 and 6.6 of SAE J587 specifying the angle of incidence of the lamp to the plate at a minimum of 8 degrees is part of FMVSS 108 and is intended to assure that the lamp illuminates the license plate." You believe "that a design which meets the 8 degree requirement and in which the plate is mounted so as to be clearly visible to an observer at the rear of the vehicle meets the intent and requirements of State laws and FMVSS 108, even if the angle of the plate itself is 15 degrees from the vertical."
We cannot agree with your interpretation. Tables I and III have incorporated SAE J587 in its entirety, and there is no exclusion of paragraph 6.1 in Standard No. 108. To be sure, a plate may continue to be visible when it is mounted more than 15 degrees from the vertical, but the 15 degree
limitation of paragraph 6.1 is necessary to ensure its legibility as well. The fact that the States and the Uniform Vehicle Code are silent on the point is legally irrelevant. If a State has a license plate mounting requirement, 49 U.S.C. 30103 requires it to be identical to the Federal requirement.
If you have any further questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Philip R. Recht Acting Chief Counsel ref:108 d:4/24/95