Mr. Solomon Bekhor
428 N. Hayworth Avenue, # 110
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dear Mr. Bekhor:
This letter responds to your letter enclosing a patent abstract for the Communicar system you have developed. Briefly described, the Communicar consists of a multiplicity of warning lights around the vehicle, as well as words embedded in the windows that can be illuminated electronically through a computer-controlled system connected to the vehicle. In a phone conversation with Ari Scott of this office, you asked us to discuss the applicability of Federal law to your system. Furthermore, you asked for information on how to request changes in current regulations.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (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.
Compliance with Federal Standards
The Communicar system presents a number of compliance issues with the FMVSSs, most significantly FMVSS No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment. FMVSS No. 108 is our regulation that applies to vehicle lighting. It specifies requirements for certain specific items of lighting equipment. While your description of the Communicar is lengthy, it does not describe in detail the placement, appearance, and functionality of front and side-mounted warning lamps. However, based on the aforementioned phone conversation, we believe that these would function primarily as
auxiliary brake lights and turn signals. Furthermore, that the lighted words that appear on the windows of the vehicle (consisting, in part, of STOP, HELP, SLOWING DOWN, LEFT TURN, RIGHT TURN, REVERSE, and U-TURN,) would also be considered auxiliary signal lighting.
Based on the information you provided, the Communicar would not be permissible as original motor vehicle equipment. If an item of lighting equipment other than those specified is provided as original equipment, it is allowed under paragraph S5.1.3 of FMVSS No. 108 only if it does not impair the effectiveness of required lighting equipment. Paragraph S5.1.3 reads as follows:
No additional lamp, reflective device or other motor vehicle equipment shall be installed that impairs the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by the standard.
In our view, impairment of driving signals may occur if the following driver is confronted with messages and symbols that are unfamiliar in the motoring environment and have the potential to confuse. We believe that products such as the one you described would be prohibited by S5.1.3. The array of warning lamps on the front and sides of the vehicle is likely to be unfamiliar to most drivers, who are accustomed to seeing the traditional signal lamps. Furthermore, the illuminated words appearing on some or all windows of the vehicle have the potential to create substantial distractions from the required signal lamps and general driving environment.
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 signal lamp system provides an important and standardized message. It is our opinion that the addition of an array of novel signal lamps such as the Communicar that deploys an array of front- and side-mounted signal lamps, as well as displays wording on the vehicles windows, would divert a driver's attention from the required signal lamps and cause confusion with respect to their meaning, and thereby impair the effectiveness of the required lamps.
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 "make inoperative" any element of design or device installed on a vehicle in accordance with Standard No. 108. As with original equipment, we regard the addition of a novel signal lamp system such as the Communicar to make inoperative a vehicle's original required lighting equipment by diverting a driver's attention from the required signal lamps, and causing confusion with respect to their meaning.
Additionally, because part of the Communicar affects the windshield and windows of the vehicle, there is the potential for your product be affected by FMVSS No. 205, Glazing Materials, which specifies performance and location requirements for motor vehicle glazing. While we do not have enough information to address this issue in detail, we would note this to be an additional area of concern.
Requesting Changes to Federal Regulations
Any interested person may request that NHTSA adopt a new standard or amend an existing one. Such requests are formally submitted via a petition for rulemaking. The requirements for petitioning for rulemaking are set forth in 49 CFR 552.4. The petition must be in the English language, the word "Petition" must be in the heading preceding the text, and the petition must set forth facts which it is claimed establish that an amendment is necessary, set forth a brief description of the substance of the amendment which it is claimed should be issued, and contain the name and address of the petitioner.
Petitions must be sent to:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, W41-307
Washington, DC 20590
We have a specific policy with respect to evaluating requests related to signal lamps, which would encompass the Communicar system. We believe that motor vehicle safety is best promoted by standardization of lighting signals. As you might imagine, the agency is frequently presented with new lighting ideas intended to enhance safety. Many of these are not allowable under Standard No. 108 because of deviations from the performance of the lighting equipment mandated by the standard. These ideas are often submitted without proof of their effectiveness. On December 13, 1996, we published a Federal Register notice that articulated the agency's general policy regarding new signal lighting ideas and how that policy would apply in the case of four specific brake signaling ideas (61 FR 65510). In a subsequent notice, published on November 4, 1998 (63 FR 59482), we expressed our intent to participate in efforts to develop an international consensus on how to handle new signaling ideas. We went on to say that, until a new international consensus emerges, we will follow the policy described in the December 1996 notice. I enclose a copy of both the 1996 and 1998 notices.
Of particular interest to you will be the discussion on p. 65517 of the December 1996 notice in which we advised inventors to provide our Office of Research and Development with candidates for future agency research. We summarized our policy as follows:
In summary, a petitioner seeking to persuade the agency to mandate a lighting invention for new vehicles bears the initial burden of establishing its safety value and cost effectiveness. The burden for those inventors seeking to make an invention optional is to convince the agency that the invention will not impair the effectiveness of required lighting equipment through creating ambiguity or negatively affecting standardization of signals.
Before submitting any invention to the agency, we urge you to carefully read the enclosed Federal Register notices, and make sure that you are submitting the kind of data necessary for us to evaluate your petition.
Furthermore, for your convenience, I am also enclosing some information for new manufacturers of vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. This should help to answer some common questions that the agency is asked.
If you have any further questions, please contact Ari Scott of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Stephen P. Wood
Acting Chief Counsel