Mr. Ian Goldstein
Safe Passage Technologies
85 Marcus Boulevard
Hauppauge, NY 11788
Dear Mr. Goldstein:
This is in reply to your letter of June 4, 1998, with respect to whether new lighting technologies that you describe are allowed by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 Lamps, Reflective Devices and Associated Equipment. You have asked us to advise you "as to the best approach to gaining the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's full acceptance and support."
You should understand that our agency does not "accept" or "support" a particular product. We do advise correspondents, as in this instance, as to whether a specific invention or device may or may not be permissible under the applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard.
The first of the technologies that you mention is "gradational" daytime running lamps (DRLs). This technology would modulate the intensity of DRLs according to ambient light conditions. On the basis of the limited information you have provided, we see no impediment under Standard No. 108 to the incorporation of this feature into DRL systems that comply with S5.5.11 of Standard No. 108. A DRL with a gradational feature would continue to provide the steady-burning light that is required for DRLs. The standard does not prohibit changes in intensity, which we presume will be within the parameters of the minimum and maximum values of candela specified .
We note your statement that "The State of California has independently determined to mandate DRL effective January 1, 1998." We do not know the basis for this remark. Unless and until DRLs are mandated by Standard No. 108, a state cannot require that new vehicles be equipped with them. A state can require that a driver operate a vehicle's existing headlamps on the lower beam during daylight hours to serve as a DRL, but we have not heard that California has enacted such a requirement.
The second technology would address lamp failure detection and correction. This technology would indicate to or warn the driver that a lamp had failed, "and temporarily use an alternative lamp, possibly at an alternate brightness," to substitute for the failed one. Under Standard No. 108, only the failure of the turn signal lamps is required to be communicated to the driver. We are aware that, through fiber optics, some manufacturers provide a warning when other lamps fail. We see nothing in Standard No. 108 or any other Federal motor vehicle safety standard that would preclude a vehicle manufacturer from offering such a detection system.
The question of substitution for failed lamps is not so easily answered. We have recently advised Ford Motor Company that automatic activation of a lower beam filament in a two-headlamp system when the upper beam filament fails is not prohibited by S5.5.9 which states that only the upper beam light sources shall be activated when the headlamp switch is in the upper beam position. In our view, this requirement of Standard No. 108 does not apply in a failure condition, and the substitution of an alternate light source is permissible. The reverse situation is not quite the same. Because headlamps are primarily operated on the lower beam, activation of an upper beam light source when a lower beam source fails raises considerations of glare. As you note, the upper beam in this instance ideally should be activated at a markedly reduced intensity such that it does not impair the effectiveness of required lighting devices (S5.1.3), or, more specifically, that, as a lower beam substitute. it does not compromise turn signal visibility.
You also present the case in which the hazard warning lamps could be activated in the event of total failure of a light source and its alternative. There is nothing in Standard No. 108 that would preclude wiring the hazard warning lamps to flash in the event of such a failure. We note that vehicle operators can manually activate the hazard warning system in such an emergency.
The third technology is called a "severe braking alert." This technology would flash the stop lamps to indicate rapid deceleration. Standard No. 108 does not allow this system because stop lamps are required to be wired to be steady burning (S5.5.10(d)). The agency has established a docket to receive comments from the public on Advance Brake Warning Systems (Docket No. 96-41) such as your "severe braking alert.". I enclose a copy of two notices, published in December 1996 and October 1997, that discuss the subject in detail.
If you have questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Frank Seales, Jr.