Mr. Craig Nearman
Q. C. Manager
Load King Trailers
South Dakota 57025
Dear Mr. Nearman:
This is in reply to your letter of May 29, 1996, asking whether a revised conspicuity scheme for one of Load King's trailers meets the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108.
According to the engineering drawing you enclosed, the trailer in question has an overall length of almost 51 feet. The trailer has three sets of wheels near the rear end. Previously, conspicuity tape 12 inches in length was applied to the end of the three wheel boxes. However, your Engineering department has changed the design at the end of each wheelbox, and you tell us that you are no longer able to place the 12-inch piece of conspicuity tape there. This means that the rearmost 14 feet 4 inches of the side of the trailer will bear no conspicuity marking. You tell us that it is Engineering's opinion that "over 50 percent of the length of the unit is covered by conspicuity tape and wheel boxes are considered discontinued surfaces on which conspicuity tape would not be needed in reference to Sec. 22.214.171.124 of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA's) 'Trailer Conspicuity Systems'". You have asked whether you are required to have conspicuity tape on the 14 feet 4 inches.
In order to understand this question better, Taylor Vinson of this Office phoned you on June 18, 1996. We learned that there are holes at the end of the wheelbox in both the old and new designs. However, in the new design, the hole has been raised so that it is no longer possible to put the 12-inch piece of material across the wheelbox without cutting a notch in its lower portion to accommodate the upper end of the raised hole. Load King has, in fact, been manufacturing trailers with tape notched in this manner. However, if NHTSA agrees with the opinion of your Engineering department, Load King would discontinue applying notched tape on the wheelbox ends.
We do not agree with your Engineering department. First, we do not know what "Sec. 126.96.36.199" refers to. The conspicuity requirements are set forth in paragraph S5.7 of Standard No. 108. Under paragraph S188.8.131.52(a), retroreflective sheeting need not be applied to "discontinuous surfaces". Under paragraph S184.108.40.206.2(a), reflective material must be applied to the side "originating and terminating as close to the front and rear as practicable." The paragraph also provides that "the strip need not be continuous as long as not less than half of the length of the trailer is covered and the spaces are distributed as evenly as practicable."
With respect to Load King, we note that in trailers of both wheelbox designs, Load King has decided that the most "practicable" location to terminate the side reflective material is on the third wheelbox at the extreme end of the trailer. This strip of material need not be continuous between its front and rear, and, in fact, there is a break in the continuity on Load King's trailers, where the tape temporarily ends in front of the first rear wheel before resuming at the wheelbox behind the first wheel, with successive interruptions and applications terminating on the third wheelbox, the spacing being as even as practicable. The top of the wheelbox hole creates a discontinuous surface and the tape is notched to take account of it. This configuration conforms with S220.127.116.11.2(a) of Standard No. 108 and we see no reason for Load King to change it.
If Load King wishes to mark only half the length of the trailer depicted, as it is permitted to do under Standard No. 108, it may not do so by reversing its previous practicability determination and removing tape that has until now marked the extreme ends of the trailer. Further, Load King must take into account the limiting language of S18.104.22.168.2(a) that where material is discontinuous between the extreme ends, the spaces between must be "distributed as evenly as practicable." We recommend that Load King consult us if it intends to redesign its existing conspicuity system.
If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Samuel J. Dubbin