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Interpretation ID: 24625.ztv

    Mr. Anthony Dowling
    5290 45th Avenue N.
    St. Petersburg, FL 33709

    Dear Mr. Dowling:

    This is in reply to your letter of June 17, 2002, asking for an interpretation regarding the legality under Federal law of your "U-Turn Traffic Signal Indicator" (the "Indicator)."

    The patent drawings that you enclosed show a U-shaped lamp 3 to 4 inches in height with a crossbar bearing the word "TURN;" the lamp and crossbar are illuminated by flashing yellow LEDs. We assume that the device operates independently of the turn signal system of the vehicle on which it is installed.

    I enclose a copy of a 1988 interpretation letter of this Office addressed to Wayne Apple who wrote on the general subject of U-turn indicators. In that letter, we advised Mr. Apple that a supplemental lighting device such as a U-turn indicator would be acceptable as original vehicle equipment provided that it did not impair the effectiveness of a vehicles required lighting equipment. We also addressed the indicator as aftermarket equipment. The general principles expressed in the letter remain valid, but 15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2)(A) has been recodified as 49 U.S.C. 30122. Further, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) has moved to 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22203.

    However, Mr. Apple asked a hypothetical question while you have presented a detailed design of a U-turn indicator for our analysis. Under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, turn signal lamps are permitted to flash but accessory lamps must be steady burning (S5.5.10). We cannot regard your flashing U-turn indicator as a supplemental turn signal lamp and permitted to flash as it appears to operate independently of the turn signal system of the vehicle on which it would be installed. Further, it does not indicate either a right or left turn. Therefore, it would not be permissible as original vehicle equipment under S5.5.10.

    Our second reservation concerns the unique design of the indicator and the presence of the word "TURN" on the crossbar. The shape of the indicator is one that is unfamiliar to motorists. Further, we discourage the use of words or messages on lighting equipment because we believe that they may distract a following driver from reacting to signals from stop or turn signal lamps, hence, impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108 within the meaning of paragraph S5.1.3 of that standard (see our letter to Mr. Apple). Therefore, in our opinion, your indicator would not be permitted as original vehicle equipment by S5.1.3 because of its shape and use of the word "TURN."

    Aftermarket lighting equipment may not be installed by a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business if it "makes inoperative" any element of design or device installed in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard. As a general rule, if an accessory lamp is not permitted as original equipment, it is also not permitted as replacement equipment. However, neither Section 30122 nor any other Federal law would prohibit the owner of a vehicle from installing the U-turn indicator. Nevertheless, the U-turn indicator would be subject to the laws of the individual States in which it is used and which may or may not permit it. We regret that we are unable to provide you with interpretations of State laws.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel