Dear Mr. Gorzkowski:
We have received your letter of February 13, 1997, expressing concern that the intended functions of certain motor vehicle lamps and reflectors are not being met by manufacturers. You are specifically concerned about "separation of turn signal lamps/hazard warning lamps, separation of reflex reflectors, and the installation of reflex reflectors or hazard warning lamps on movable parts of the vehicle."
With respect to spacing of lamps and reflectors, you believe that "[t]here seems to be a need for introduction of [an] acceptable range of distances from the edge of the vehicle where the reflex reflectors and turn signal lamps/hazard warning lamps should be located. This range may be expressed either by an actual measurement or by a percentage related to the width of the vehicle."
As you recognize, this suggestion would have to be implemented through rulemaking. Both Federal and Candadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards No. 108 specify that turn signal/hazard warning lamps and rear reflex reflectors be located "as far apart as practicable." However, in point of fact, both standards specify that all front and rear lighting equipment required to be provided in pairs must be located "as far apart as practicable."
Literal compliance with this requirement could mean that lamps and reflectors would have to be stacked vertically at the extreme edges of a vehicle. But we have never sought to enforce the location requirements of Standard No. 108 in that manner.
We generally rely on the good faith of a manufacturer in determining that the location of any particular pair of lamps and reflectors is "as far apart as practicable." The manufacturer's certification of compliance of the vehicle represents, in part, its certification that its lamps and reflectors are located "as far apart as practicable." NHTSA has repeatedly stated in its interpretations that it will accept the manufacturer's certification unless that determination appears clearly erroneous. For example, where there is room on a truck or trailer rear header for identification lamps and these lamps are placed at bumper level, NHTSA will question the lower location and try to persuade the manufacturer to relocate them. Both Transport Canada and NHTSA have alerted Ford Motor Company to their concern that the front turn signal lamps on the 1996-97 Mercury Sable passenger cars are not as "far apart as practicable" because they are spaced farther apart on the similar companion car, the 1996-97 Ford Taurus. We agree with you that the Mercury design does not fulfill the intent of a turn signal spacing requirement.
The question, then, is whether it is appropriate for NHTSA to develop a more objective regulation on lamp spacing. The gathering of accident data is not sufficiently discriminant to ascribe causation of crashes involving passenger cars to lateral spacing of their lamps or reflectors. Thus, a logical rationale would have to be developed in support of a more explicit regulation for the horizontal spacing of lamps and reflectors, if NHTSA decides that the requirement of "as far apart as practicable" is inadequate regulatory language..
Your second concern is the location of certain lamps and reflectors on trunk lids. You cite NHTSA's interpretations that compliance is judged with the vehicle in its normal operating configuration (i.e., with doors, trunk lids, cargo hatches, etc. closed), and present situations in which lamps and reflectors mounted on the deck lid will not be seen when the lid is open.
As I recall, we have advised over the years that lamps such as stop and turn signals should not be placed on trunk lids, and that, if a two-compartment lamp is placed both on the trunk lid and the adjacent rear sheet metal, the lamp located on the sheet metal should alone comply with the requirements of Standard No. 108. My review of the standard shows that S5.3.1 requires lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment to be "securely mounted on a rigid part of the vehicle other than glazing that is not designed to be removed except for repair." We will consider whether sufficient safety justification exists for proposing that no lamp, reflective device, or item of associated equipment be located on a trunk lid, door, panel, or other movable body part unless the regulated item complies with Standard No. 108 with the trunk lid, etc. in its fully open position, or unless an alternative fully-complying item is provided on the movable part.
As you recognize, any changes to respond to your concerns and the inconsistencies between interpretations of the U.S. and Canadian lighting standards would have to be implemented through rulemaking. NHTSA will carefully consider your suggestions and take the appropriate actions. We will coordinate any proposed regulatory changes with Transport Canada to ensure that any changes are harmonized by both countries. Harmonization with international standards is a stated policy of the United States.
Thank you for bringing these matters to our attention. If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel