Kerry Harris, Director
Angel 7 Industries, LLC
8111 Mainland Dr., Ste 104-422
San Antonio, TX 78240
Dear Mr. Harris:
This responds to your February 12, 2010 letter asking whether producing motorcycle helmets with built-in rear lighting in colors other than red (e.g., green, blue) violates DOT policy. The issues raised by your letter are addressed below.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, Safety Act) to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. 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.
The following is our interpretation of the Safety Act and relevant FMVSSs based on the description of your helmets and the built-in lighting system. You indicate that the motorcycle helmets you produce are currently equipped with built-in front and rear lighting to increase rider visibility. You state that the rear lighting is currently red, but you indicate that you would like to offer lighting in other colors, such as blue or green.
Motorcycle helmets are regulated items of motor vehicle equipment and are required to comply with FMVSS No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets. Your motorcycle helmets must meet all of the requirements of FMVSS No. 218, including, but not limited to, the impact attenuation, penetration, and retention system requirements. Additionally, paragraph S5.5 of FMVSS No. 218 prohibits rigid projections inside the motorcycle helmet shell and also prohibits rigid projections on the outside of the helmet shell, except for those required for operation of essential accessories. A helmet lighting system is not an essential accessory within the meaning of this phrase. Accordingly, if a helmet lighting system creates a rigid projection as described above, the motorcycle helmet would not be in compliance with FMVSS No. 218.
There are no FMVSSs that address a self-contained lighting system that is part of a motorcycle helmet. However, if the helmet lighting system is wirelessly or otherwise connected to the motorcycle, e.g., powered by the motorcycle electrical system or connected to its lighting circuits, it would be considered to be part of the overall motorcycle lighting and conspicuity package. It is unclear from your letter whether your helmet lighting system is designed to be connected in any way to the motorcycle. As explained below, we believe that the system, if it incorporated blue or green lamps, would impair the effectiveness of the required motorcycle lighting equipment, and, accordingly, commercial entities would be prohibited from connecting the device to a motor vehicle.
Under FMVSS No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, the only permissible colors of light that may be emitted by original required lighting on new vehicles are red, amber, or white. Accessory lighting equipment (i.e., equipment not required under the standard) is permissible on new vehicles, provided that it does not impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by FMVSS No. 108 (see S5.1.3). We interpret this as a general prohibition on lamps of colors other than red, amber, or white because of the possibility that non-standard colors could cause confusion in other drivers, thereby diverting their attention from lamps that signal driver intention, such as stop lamps or turn signal lamps. Regarding the alternative colors mentioned in your letter, the color green could cause confusion with the red or yellow lamps that seek to warn or caution. Blue is a color that some States reserve for use on emergency vehicles, so drivers unexpectedly encountering blue lamps on other types of vehicles could take potentially inappropriate actions.
Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 30122, if equipment is installed by a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business, that equipment, as installed, must not make inoperative any of the required safety equipment. If an item of equipment impairs the effectiveness of the lighting equipment required by FMVSS No. 108, we consider the installation of such equipment to have rendered the required lighting systems partially inoperative. Accordingly, because a helmet equipped with a lighting system consisting of blue or green lights would impair the effectiveness of required motorcycle lighting systems, Section 30122 would prohibit a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business from connecting the device to a new or used motor vehicle. Another potential impairment issue would be if the connection to the motorcycle adversely affected the performance of the lamps on the motorcycle, e.g., by reducing the candela of required lamps so that they did not meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 108.
If a helmet lighting system is not connected to the vehicle, the make inoperative prohibition in Section 30122 would not apply. However, the safety concerns about different colored lights would still be relevant. Moreover, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles or motor vehicle equipment.
In addition to the Federal provisions outlined above, individual States may regulate your product. We suggest that you contact State agencies to ascertain the legal status of your motorcycle helmets with regard to State regulation.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please contact William Shakely of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
O. Kevin Vincent
Ref: Standard Nos. 108 and 218