Mr. Mark Steele
225 Merrill Place
Goshen, IN 46528
Dear Mr. Steele:
We are replying to your letter of June 28, 1999, which did not reach this Office until mid-September. I apologize for the delay.
You are interested in the acceptability of possible ABS warning systems under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108. Noting that the standard requires stop lamps to be steady burning and hazard warning lamps to flash, you have asked:
"1. Can an OEM automatically initiate the hazard flashers upon the application of the vehicle's ABS? This would pertain to all motor vehicles, including: automobiles, trucks and motorcycles."
The answer is no, for the following reasons. The hazard warning system operates by simultaneous activation of all turn signal lamps. Standard No. 108 permits rear turn signal lamps to be either red or amber. It is the common practice of vehicle manufacturers who choose red to use the same filament within a bulb to indicate separately the stop and turn functions, e.g., when the turn signal is flashing there is no separate indication that the brakes are applied. In this configuration, use of the hazard system to indicate application of the ABS would result in, first, a steady burning signal indicating the brakes are applied, followed by a flashing signal indicating application of the ABS. This, in essence, would be perceived as a flashing stop lamp which, as you note, is not permitted by Standard No. 108. We would also regard this configuration as a noncompliance with S5.1.3 of Standard No. 108, which prohibits the installation of additional lighting equipment that impairs the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by the standard. In this configuration, the stop signal would cease to function when the brakes are still applied.
We believe that impairment would also result within the meaning of S5.1.3 when the rear turn signal system is comprised of amber lamps. In this configuration, the stop lamps would be activated when the brakes are applied, followed by separate flashing amber lamps to indicate activation of the ABS. The sudden presence of flashing amber lamps dilutes the unmistakable message the stop lamp is sending, and can result in at least momentary confusion in the driver following a vehicle equipped with the ABS warning system.
Finally, as a matter of interest, motorcycles are not required to have hazard warning systems.
"2. Can an OEM automatically actuate a new set of lights on the rear of a vehicle to indicate that the vehicle's ABS has been activated?"
The answer again is no. Installation of supplemental lighting equipment is permitted by S5.1.3 of Standard No. 108 provided that it does not impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108. We believe that an additional and unfamiliar lamp that is activated immediately following activation of the stop lamps has the potential to cause confusion and momentary hesitation in a following driver, and, in that sense, impair the effectiveness of the stop lamps.
"3. Can a product be sold in the aftermarket that would initiate the flashing of new or existing signal lights upon application of a vehicle's ABS?"
As we have discussed, installation of such a product by an OEM would create a noncompliance with Standard No. 108. Sale of the product per se is not an illegal act, but installation on a vehicle of a product that creates a noncompliance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard is expressly prohibited by 49 U.S.C. 30122 when that device is installed by a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business. Further, use of such a product is also subject to the laws of the various States in which a vehicle is registered or used.
If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Frank Seales, Jr.