800 South Pacific Coast Highway
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Dear Mr. Ahmadi:
This responds to your letter requesting that the Federal government require all motor vehicles to be equipped with your mirror, which you believe reduces blind spots. You state that part of your mirror is shaped at a straight angle while another part has a three to five degree outward variance. As explained below, this agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), does not believe it should require all vehicles to be equipped with your mirror. Nevertheless, NHTSA does not prohibit you from marketing your mirror, provided the mirror complies with the Federal standard on rearview mirrors and other safety considerations are met.
Before I begin, I would like to reference a November 29, 1994 telephone conversation between you and Mr. Marvin Shaw of my staff, about your request for the information in your letter be treated as confidential. Mr. Shaw explained that letters requesting interpretations of our Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) are public information. Nevertheless, he further explained that we would only include a general description of your mirror in our response. Accordingly, we will return your sketches to you and make only the cover letter publicly available. You agreed that this would satisfy your concerns about not disclosing your design concepts.
By way of background information, Congress has authorized NHTSA to issue FMVSSs for new vehicles and new items of equipment. NHTSA, however, does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, the law establishes a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.
NHTSA has issued FMVSS No. 111, Rearview Mirrors (49 CFR '571.111, copy enclosed), to set performance requirements for new vehicle mirrors. FMVSS No. 111 establishes performance and location requirements for the rearview mirrors in each new motor vehicle. Vehicle manufacturers must certify that each of their new vehicles complies with the applicable requirements in FMVSS No. 111. Vehicle manufacturers may install mirror systems that combine a portion of the mirror with a straight angle with a portion of the mirror that is at a slight variance, provided that the straight mirror portion by itself complies with the requirements in FMVSS No. 111 that are applicable to the vehicle on which the mirror system is installed.
Assuming that the straight mirror portion of your mirror system complies with the applicable requirements of FMVSS No. 111, vehicle manufacturers could install this new mirror system on their vehicles.
However, even though your mirror may be installed as original equipment, NHTSA does not agree with you that new vehicles should be required to be equipped with a mirror system that has a portion that is at a slight variance. As explained in the enclosed notice about convex mirrors, while a convex mirror reduces blind spots by increasing a driver's field of view, such mirror systems also "increase distortion and reduce a driver's depth perception and judgment about another vehicle's closing distance." Like the mirror referenced in that notice, your mirror has both potential advantages and disadvantages: it would increase the driver's field of view, but it would to some extent increase the potential for confusing the driver, since it combines two different orientations.
Please note that since FMVSS No. 111 applies to the completed new vehicle, it does not apply to mirrors sold and installed as aftermarket equipment. However, there are other Federal requirements that indirectly affect an aftermarket mirror system. Under NHTSA's enabling statute, the agency considers the mirror to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. Manufacturers of motor vehicle equipment are subject to our statute's requirements concerning the recall and remedy of products with safety related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those responsibilities. In the event that you or NHTSA determines that your product contains a safety-related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
In addition, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and motor vehicle repair businesses are subject to a provision in the law, which states: "No manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly make inoperative ... any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard ...." Based on our understanding of your mirror system, it appears that its installation would not make inoperative compliance with the standard. Nevertheless, if the installation of your mirror system resulted in a vehicle no longer complying with FMVSS No. 111, then the manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business that replaced the complying mirror with a noncomplying system would have made inoperative a device (the mirror system) installed in the vehicle in compliance with FMVSS No. 111. The law specifies a civil penalty of up to $1000 for each violation of the make inoperative provision.
This provision in the law does not establish any limitation on an individual vehicle owner's ability to modify his or her own vehicle. Under Federal law, individual owners can install any mirror system they desire on their own vehicles, regardless of whether that mirror makes inoperative the vehicle's compliance with the requirements of FMVSS No. 111. However, NHTSA urges vehicle owners not to degrade the safety of any system or device on their vehicles, including the safety of their rearview mirrors. In addition, individual States are responsible for
regulating the use of motor vehicles, and a State may have its own requirements with regard to the type of mirrors vehicles must have to be registered in that State.
I hope this information is helpful. For your future reference, I have enclosed an information sheet providing general information about NHTSA's regulations for manufacturers of new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Please feel free to contact Marvin Shaw of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992 if you have any further questions or need additional information.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel