Calcoast - ITL
P.O. Box 8702
Emeryville, CA 94662
Dear Mr. Evans:
This is in reply to your letter of January 11, 1996, in which you ask "what regulations apply to" a rear fog anti-collision laser system. The system consists of a laser diode with a beam diameter of 1 cm, mounted on the rear decklid of a passenger car "near the highmounted stop lamp (where applicable)." The laser would be inclined downward. Its purpose "is to illuminate water vapor present in the air under fog conditions," thereby, as we understand it, improving conspicuity.
The statute that we administer which applies to this device is Title 49 United States Code Chapter 301-Motor Vehicle Safety. Under Chapter 301, the device you describe is considered "motor vehicle equipment." If a defect exists in this product that relates to motor vehicle safety, as determined either by its manufacturer or by this agency, the manufacturer is required to notify purchasers and to remedy the defect. The manufacturer should ensure that its laser does not create a problem that this agency could recognize as a defect in its performance.
There is no Federal motor vehicle safety standard that applies to this device. However, the Federal motor vehicle lighting standard (Standard No. 108, 49 CFR 571.108) prohibits the addition of motor vehicle equipment that impairs the effectiveness of lighting equipment that Standard No. 108 requires. You mentioned the laser's proximity to the center highmounted stop lamp. This is permissible as long as the laser doesn't impair the effectiveness of the center lamp.
The responsibility for a determination of impairment initially falls upon the installer of the equipment. If the installer is the manufacturer of the vehicle, he must make such a determination in order to certify that the vehicle complies with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. If the installer is the dealer, the dealer must make the determination in order to ensure that it is delivering a conforming car to its customer. Of course, NHTSA may make its own impairment determination if it disagrees with the views of the manufacturer or dealer.
If the laser is to be sold in the aftermarket, it may be installed by a manufacturer, dealer, distributor or motor vehicle repair business only if it does not "make inoperative" required lighting equipment such as the center lamp. We view making inoperative as the equivalent of impairment under these circumstances.
Even if acceptable under Federal law, use of aftermarket equipment is subject to State laws. We are not in a position to advise you on these and suggest you write for an opinion to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Va. 22203.
If you have any further questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel ref:108 d:4/12/96