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Interpretation ID: 15737.ztv

Mr. Ron Stoddard
J & M Camper Sales
RR6 Box 526
Augusta, Maine 04330

Dear Mr. Stoddard:

This is in reply to your letter of August 7, 1997, requesting a clarification of laws pertaining to center stop lamps on truck camper caps.

You report selling a truck cap to a customer equipped with a center stop lamp, telling him that this was required because his truck was equipped with one. The Maine State Police told him that it was not mandatory, whereupon your customer asked you "to order and install a cap without a brake light, which we refused." You then consulted the State Police whose letter to Jeff Stoddard dated August 1, 1997, you have enclosed. You do not feel that the letter clarifies the law, and you have asked "Are we responsible if we do not install a cap and sell it for them to install themselves? Or can we install one without a brake light? We interpret the law as, if you have a brake light on the back of your truck and install a cap, you must have a light on the cap." You have also asked "do the State Laws override the Federal Government safety laws?"

The letter from Lt. Dow of the Maine State Police agrees that "you are correct in determining that a dealer must include a third brake light when a cap is installed on a truck required to have a high mounted brake light. However, it is also correct that the owner of a truck equipped with a cap is not required to have a third brake light on the cap." Maine has concluded that it "will tell the owners of pick-up trucks that the law does not require them to have a third brake light on a cap, but that dealers are required to include them."

As a practical matter, both you and the Maine State Police are correct. In virtually all instances, we believe that the cap will be installed by its seller at the time and point of purchase, and under these facts, the dealer must provide the third stop lamp on the cap. However, if the purchaser installs the cap, the cap need not be equipped with the third stop lamp, unless State law requires it.

Here is how we arrive at that interpretation. Our basic regulatory statute (49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 - Motor Vehicle Safety) prohibits a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business from making inoperative any device (such as the center stop lamp) installed in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard (in this instance, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108). Thus, if one of the four entities named above installs a cap on a pickup truck that obscures the center stop lamp originally provided, that person will have made the center stop lamp inoperative, which the law prohibits. However, there will be no violation if the cap is equipped with a substitute lamp that meets the photometric and location requirements of the original center stop lamp. This is why the caps that you sell and install must have a center stop lamp.

However, there is no requirement per se in Standard No. 108 that a cap be equipped with a center lamp. This means you don't have to provide a center stop lamp on a cap that you don't install. Thus, since vehicle owners are not subject to the "make inoperative" provisions of Federal law, a vehicle owner can order a cap without a center stop lamp and install it himself without violating Federal law. The letter from the Maine State Police indicates that this is also permitted under state law. You'll find a discussion of these points in the preamble to the final rule on pickup truck center stop lamps which I am enclosing for your information (see pages 16016 and 16017).

The Maine letter is therefore incomplete in its statement that cap "dealers are required to include" center stop lamps. This is a Federal requirement only if the dealer installs the cap. We appreciate the efforts of the State Police to assist you, and are providing Lt. Dow with a copy of our response to you.

You also inquired about the relationship between State and Federal motor vehicle safety laws. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards of this agency are manufacturing requirements which must be met through the time of initial sale. A State may not establish or continue in effect a State motor vehicle safety standard covering the same aspect of performance as a Federal standard unless it is identical to the Federal standard (a State may establish more stringent standards for State-owned vehicles). The acceptability of modifications to vehicles thereafter are governed by the "make inoperative" provisions mentioned above, and are also subject to State law. States also retain exclusive rights over the licensing and use of vehicles on State roads.

I hope that this has been helpful. If you have further questions you may call Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).

John Womack
Acting Chief Counsel
cc: Lt. Bruce Dow