Mr. Jean-François Thomas
Manager of Industrial Property
Glaverbel -- Center R&D
Rue de L'Aurore, 2
B-6040 Jumet, Belgium

Dear Mr. Thomas:

This responds to your August 14, 1996, letter asking nine questions about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 111, Rearview mirrors. (49 CFR 571.111). Your questions focus on S11 of FMVSS No. 111, which states

[a] multiple reflectance mirror shall either be equipped with a means for the driver to adjust the mirror to a reflectance level of at least 35 percent in the event of an electrical failure, or achieve such reflectance level automatically in the event of electrical failure. (Emphasis added).

For the sake of convenience, this letter refers to this passage as "the phrase." Our response is based on our understanding of the facts set forth in your letter. We assume that these questions refer to multiple reflectance mirrors that require power to maintain their reflectance levels above the 35 percent level.

A. Other sections of Standard 111, such as S5, differentiate between, or address specifically, different types of mirrors, such as outside rear view mirrors, or inside rearview mirrors. In contrast, S11 only refers to a "multi reflectance mirror." Please confirm that S11 applies to both inside and outside rearview mirrors.

Yes. Section S11 states that the "average reflectance of any mirror shall be determined in accordance with" a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice. (Emphasis added) Moreover, there is no limiting language in S11. Therefore, S11 applies to both inside and outside rearview mirrors.

B. We note that the Phrase does not specify the time frame within which the driver must adjust the mirror to the 35% level. Please indicate whether a time frame has been contemplated, and what it is.

While NHTSA did not contemplate a specific time frame, it intended that the adjustment could be done mechanically, in much the same way as a conventional selective prismatic mirror can be adjusted. See 56 FR 58575 (November 20, 1991). This is because the electrical failure could turn the mirror dark at any time, including situations where the driver could not pull over to repair the mirror but would need to brighten the mirror quickly (e.g., while in a tunnel or maneuvering in heavy traffic). NHTSA interprets the phrase to mean that the adjustment would have to be done quickly while driving.

C. Can the Phrase be interpreted to mean that the case of the mirror may contain an attachment that can be removed in the event of an electrical failure, so that, after the removal of such attachment, the portion of the mirror that remains installed in the vehicle achieves the 35% reflectance?

Yes. We are not entirely sure what you mean by "the case of the mirror," but as long as the removal of the attachment could be done quickly by the driver alone, while driving (e.g., pulling off a faceplate), the removal of an attachment could be considered a "means to adjust."

D. Can the Phrase be interpreted to mean that the case of the mirror may contain an additional or replacement components that can be affixed to the mirror in the event of an electrical failure, so that after the driver has added, affixed, or installed such an additional or replacement component onto the mirror, the mirror achieves the 35% reflectance?

No. NHTSA stated in the 1991 final rule that "the rulemaking's overriding focus must be to ensure that mirrors are capable of providing adequate rearview vision at all times during the vehicle's operation." (emphasis added) It is doubtful that this arrangement could provide adequate rearview vision at all times during the vehicle's operation. The driver would have to open the case, remove an item, and affix it. This is a three step process that should not be performed while driving. In contrast, NHTSA envisions a simple action -- such as flipping a lever, turning a knob, or pulling or sliding a panel -- that can be quickly accomplished while driving. An important distinction between the situation here and the situation in question C is that the attachment in question C can always be removed, resulting in a compliant mirror, but a missing attachment cannot be affixed to restore the mirror's reflectance.

E. Can the Phrase be interpreted to include, as a "means to adjust," the removal of a portion of the existing mirror or the addition of a component on top of an existing mirror?

As discussed in our response to question C, the removal of a portion of the existing mirror could be considered a "means to adjust." As discussed in question D, the addition of a component on top of an existing mirror, would not meet this definition. The intent here is to allow for adequate vision at all times during the vehicle's operation.

F. Can the words "be equipped with a means . . . to adjust" be interpreted to allow the driver to stop the vehicle and complete such adjustment within a short time after the occurrence of the electrical failure, using spare parts or tools available within the mirror case? Within the glove compartment, within the trunk?

No. As explained above, such scenarios would be impermissible because they could not be done at all times while the vehicle is in operation.

G. Assuming that Section 11 applies to both inside and outside mirrors, does the "means to adjust the mirror have to be within the drivers reach within the vehicle, i.e., without opening the window to reach the mirror, or without stopping the car and getting out of the car to adjust the mirror. Or, can the Phrase be interpreted to mean that in the case of outside mirrors, which are less accessible than [the] internal mirror, the driver may have the ability to stop the vehicle to adjust the mirror to the appropriate reflectance level.

Yes, the means to adjust the mirror have to be within the driver's reach, but the driver may roll down the driver's side window in order to reach the outside mirrors on that side. The driver would have to be able to accomplish the adjustment quickly, alone, and without stopping the vehicle. Because the driver could not safely reach the passenger side outside rear view mirror, there would have to be some remote means to adjust that mirror to 35 percent reflectance in the event of an electrical failure.

H. Can the Phrase be interpreted to allow the use of a battery, as an alternative source of power? And if yes, does the battery have to be incorporated within the mirror, or is it sufficient if it is provided to the purchasers of the vehicle (and is affixed to the vehicle's trunk or glove compartment), or is it sufficient if the battery is generally available in commerce?

No. Battery backup would not be a "means . . . to adjust." Batteries merely address temporarily certain kinds of electrical failure caused by loss of primary power. The regulatory requirement is meant to address the term "electrical failure" from any cause. For example, if the electrical failure occurred in the contacts to the mirror, the battery power would not maintain mirror reflectance at 35 percent. Moreover, over time the battery would discharge, eventually becoming unavailable for backup.

I. Modern vehicles contain numerous components that can operate only with electricity. Among them, for example, windshield wipers, electrical windows, ABS brakes or airbags. Although the probability is extremely small, electrical failures do at times occur. Since no product can achieve 100 % reliability, we assume that there must be some threshold level of failure. Can Standard 111/11 be interpreted or, has this or any other safety standard been interpreted to allow a "de minimis level" of non compliance? Please provide examples of failure levels that are acceptable.

The probability of failure is irrelevant in this case. The requirement states "in the event of electrical failure . . . " Therefore, no matter how rare it would be in the real world, an electrical failure is an event that the standard specifically addresses. Therefore, when NHTSA tests a multiple reflectance mirror for compliance with S11, the agency will cause an electical failure. NHTSA's current test procedure (TP-111-05, May 9, 1995) states "[i]f [testing] a multiple reflectance mirror remove all electrical power and adjust [the mirror] manually to day mode position, if so equipped." (Emphasis added). If there is a battery backup, NHTSA will disable that, too.

In answer to your second question, our regulations do not allow a "de minimis" level of noncompliance. The standards are written in terms of objective criteria such that a vehicle or a regulated item of equipment passes only if it meets the stated requirements. Except for minor labeling violations or failures that, in NHTSA's judgment, are aberrations rather than systematic problems, most test failures are subject to follow up actions which are directed at obtaining a recall.

In addition to our responses to your specific questions, we have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes a manufacturer's responsibilities to recall and remedy motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment with safety related defects and how this agency's standards apply to such products motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Paul Atelsek of my staff at (202) 366-2992.


John Womack

Acting Chief Counsel