2820 Nine Mile Road
Richmond, VA 23233
Dear Mr. Norman:
This responds to your letter of June 30, 1995, with respect to the "Auto Truckers Courtesy Light." This is the device that you discussed with Taylor Vinson of this Office on June 29. You have applied to the Virginia Department of Transportation for evaluation of this product who will make a decision on July 13. We assume that you wish to know whether the product is permitted by Federal regulations.
As we understand it from the description, photos, and drawings that you enclosed, the device consists of a large sign with a "thank you" message that would be illuminated by two small amber lamps in the upper corners. The device could be mounted on the rear underride guard of a large truck or trailer, or on the rear cargo door. The purpose of the device is to enable the driver of the vehicle on which it is installed to show appreciation "to a trailing motorist for blinking his lights to assist the truck operator in changing back to the right hand lane after passing." In addition "[t]he device operates with audio and visual indicators with three second automatic delay cut off."
You told Taylor Vinson that the intent is to sell this product in the aftermarket. As Mr. Vinson indicated, the Federal motor vehicle safety standard on motor vehicle lighting (Standard No. 108) contains no specifications applicable to the manufacture and sale in the aftermarket of supplementary motor vehicle lighting equipment such as this. This means that the device may be manufactured and sold without violating any Federal law administered by the Department of Transportation.
There remains, however, the issue of whether its installation and use would violate a Federal proscription that forbids manufacturers, dealers, distributors, and motor vehicle repair businesses from "making inoperative" motor vehicle lighting equipment installed in accordance with Standard No. 108 (or equipment installed that was necessary to comply with any
other Federal motor vehicle safety standard). With respect to supplementary lighting equipment, we generally ask ourselves whether the "message" sent by required lighting equipment is likely to be made less effective if it and the device are used simultaneously. The effectiveness of the required lighting equipment is especially important with respect to oversized vehicles such as large trucks and trailers. With respect to your device, we foresee the possibility that the driver of a large vehicle on which it is installed might have to apply the brakes at the moment that the two small amber lamps are activated that illuminate the "thank you" sign, thus impairing the effectiveness of the stop lamps (we would probably reach a different conclusion if the message was related to the brake lamps, i.e., if it said "Stop"). Therefore, the installation of your device by a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business would appear to violate the Federal proscription against making safety equipment inoperative.
The proscription, however, does not apply to the owner of the vehicle which, if a company, could have the device installed in its own private repair facilities, or if the owner is a person, by the owner. This means that the individual States in which the device is to be used may accept or reject the device as they determine to be appropriate. We are unable to advise you how the laws of the individual States would apply to the device, and suggest that you write for an opinion to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Va. 22203.
If you have further questions, Taylor Vinson will be pleased to assist you (202-366-5263).
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel ref:108 d:7/13/95