5 Beach Street
Saco, Maine 04072
Dear Mr. Mouzas:
We have received your letter of January 17, 1996, asking whether your patented invention "is allowed under current NHTSA standards."
As you have described your invention called "Smartbeams", in its most basic form it activates "lights mounted to the side of a vehicle when either the directional lights are used or when the steering wheel is turned in either direction." From the drawings you enclosed, it appears that the lamps are supplementary equipment like front and rear side mounted cornering lamps used on many vehicles rather than the side marker lamps which are required vehicle lighting equipment, and that both the front and rear side lamps are activated under the conditions described above.
The laws that we administer contain somewhat different requirements depending on whether a vehicle has been delivered to its first purchaser for purposes other than resale. Before that point, a vehicle must be manufactured and sold in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108. We regard Smartbeams as supplementary lighting equipment. If supplementary lighting equipment is furnished with a new vehicle, whether installed by the vehicle's manufacturer or by the new car dealer, it is acceptable under Standard No. 108 provided that it does not impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by the Standard.
The question here is whether the side-mounted Smartbeams would impair the effectiveness of other side-mounted vehicle lighting equipment. Given the purpose of Smartbeams to illuminate areas to the sides of vehicles during turns, the device would not have an impairing effect on the only lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108 to be mounted on the sides, the side marker lamps.
Your comment that Smartbeams can be used with "any number or type of light" is too general to comment on in detail, but its acceptability is subject to the impairment criterion. As a general rule, in certifying vehicles for compliance with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards, a manufacturer certifies that any supplementary lighting equipment does not impair the effectiveness of any lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108. NHTSA will not contest the manufacturer's determination unless it appears clearly erroneous.
You have also told us that Smartbeams can be retrofitted to existing vehicles, and that it can use "any existing off the shelf and already approved lights presently being sold." We assume that you mean lamps bearing their manufacturer's certification of compliance with Standard No. 108. The Federal requirements that apply after the initial sale of a vehicle, simply prohibit modifications to a vehicle (other than by its owner) that "make inoperative" equipment originally installed in accordance with a Federal safety standard. In most instances, we interpret inoperability to mean impairment; thus, if the equipment on a new vehicle will not impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment originally required, it is not likely to make that equipment inoperative. Thus, the same considerations apply with respect to the aftermarket acceptability under Federal law of Smartbeams as apply to its use as new vehicle equipment.
However, state laws also apply to the use of aftermarket supplementary lighting equipment. We are unable to advise you as to the acceptability of Smartbeams under the laws of the individual states, and suggest that you consult 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 (202-366-3820).
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel