Dear Mr. Currie:
This responds to your letter of December 3, 1996, asking for "an interpretation of NHTSA statutes, regulations, and standards" that apply to your "new after market accessory lighting for all road motor vehicles." We are pleased to assist you.
The product folder you enclosed depicts the "lightrail", described as a "side light fiber optic cable, locked into a full length, heavy duty, aluminum extruded rail." It is intended "for pickup trucks, trailers, emergency, utility and commercial vehicles." It illuminates the side of vehicles at night. Its operation is described as follows: "LIGHTRAIL can be connected for yellow normally on, flash with your directionals, and turn red with your brake lights - or - red normally on and flash yellow/red with your directionals."
First of all, as an accessory for a motor vehicle, "LIGHTRAIL" is "motor vehicle equipment" as defined by 49 U.S.C. 30102(a)(7)(B). This means that its manufacturer must notify purchasers and remedy any safety related defect that may occur in its construction or performance.
NHTSA's Federal motor vehicle safety standard on motor vehicle and motor vehicle equipment lighting, Standard No. 108, establishes after market specifications only for lighting equipment manufactured to replace original lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108. Thus, Standard No. 108 does not regulate "LIGHTRAIL" since this device is not required as original equipment on any motor vehicle.
The sole provision in Federal law that relates to "LIGHTRAIL" as an after market product is a prohibition contained in 49 U.S.C. 30122 against making safety devices and elements inoperative. Under this section, "a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable [Federal] motor vehicle safety standard. . ." In applying this prohibition to specific products, we first determine whether the product will prevent the regulated elevemnts of the vehicle from operating. Since "LIGHTRAIL" does not involve disconnection of lighting items, we next examine the effect of its performance on the performance of lighting equipment that Standard No. 108 requires as original equipment on motor vehicles. If the auxiliary lighting device is likely to detract from the purpose of a required lighting device, or create confusion, we regard that effect also as a "making inoperative" within the meaning of the prohibition.
According to the product sheet, LIGHTRAIL has three modes of operation, steady-burning yellow or red in normal operation, steady-burning red when the stop lamps are applied, and flashing yellow/red when the turn signals are activated. The product literature you enclosed shows LIGHTRAIL installed and lit on the sides of two self-propelled vehicles (a pickup truck and a wrecker), and a trailer. Standard No. 108 requires that motor vehicles have side marker lamps at the front and rear. Because your device illuminates the sides of the vehicles, we consider it to be a supplementary side marker lamp. Side marker lamps are permitted to flash with the turn signal lamps and the operation of the device causes us no concern.
What does concern us, however, is LIGHTRAIL's color. The side marker lamps required for motor vehicles must be amber at the front (and midpoint if the overall length of the vehicle is at least 30 feet) and red at the rear. Thus, LIGHTRAILs installed on the side of the box of pickup trucks should be red, to harmonize with the color of the rear side marker, not amber, where they will conflict with the color of the rear side marker. For the same reason, LIGHTRAILs installed on trailers must be amber up to the midpoint of the trailer, and red to the rear of the midpoint.
The legality of the use of supplementary lighting devices such as LIGHTRAIL is, at bottom, a question of the laws of the individual states. We are unable to provide you with interpretations of these laws, and suggest that you contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state in which it is likely that LIGHTRAIL will be used.
If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office 9202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel