Mr. Mark Steele
Steele Enterprises
225 Merrill Place
Goshen, IN 46528

Dear Mr. Steele:

This replies to your letter to me dated January 3, 2000, as well as to your January 3, 2000, letter to Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater. I understand that you also talked with Taylor Vinson of this office on January 24, 2000, and Rich Van Iderstine of the Office of Safety Performance Standards on August 4, 1999. My previous letters to you of October 21, 1999, and December 6, 1999, advised you that we do not regard your invention as permitted under Federal lighting laws.

Your latest letter asks 11 additional questions. My answering these questions is not going to change the fact that we view your invention as not allowed by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108. Instead, I will proceed to address the one concern that underlines your questions: the steps required in petitioning for rulemaking to amend Standard No. 108 to allow your invention, and the support that we look for.

The requirements for petitioning are set forth in 49 CFR 552.4, and are very simple. The petition must be in the English language, the word "Petition" must be in the heading preceding the text, set forth facts which it is claimed establish that an amendment is necessary, set forth a brief description of the substance of the amendment which it is claimed should be issued, and contain the name and address of the petitioner.

The support for a petition for rulemaking to amend Standard No. 108 with respect to signal lamps is more complex. We believe that motor vehicle safety is best promoted by standardization of lighting signals. As you might imagine, the agency is frequently presented with new lighting ideas intended to enhance safety. Many of these are not allowable under Standard No. 108 because of deviations from the performance of the lighting equipment mandated by the standard. Virtually all these ideas are submitted without proof of their effectiveness. On December 13, 1996, we published a Federal Register notice that articulated the agency's general policy regarding new signal lighting ideas and how that policy would apply in the case of four specific brake signaling ideas (61 FR 65510). In a subsequent notice, published on November 4, 1998 (63 FR 59482), we expressed our intent to participate in efforts to develop an international consensus on how to handle new signaling ideas. We went on to say that, until a new international consensus emerges, we will follow the policy described in the December 1996 notice. I enclose a copy of both the 1996 and 1998 notices.

Of particular interest to you will be the discussion on p. 65517 of the December 1996 notice in which we advised inventors to provide our Office of Research and Development with candidates for future agency research. We summarized our policy thusly:

In summary, a petitioner seeking to persuade the agency to mandate a lighting invention for new vehicles bears the initial burden of establishing its safety value and cost effectiveness. The burden for those inventors seeking to make an invention optional is to convince the agency that the invention will not impair the effectiveness of required lighting equipment through creating ambiguity or negatively affecting standardization of signals.

You mentioned to Mr. Vinson on January 24 that the BMW website indicates that the hazard warning signals on the company's 8 Series model activate automatically in the event of a crash. The 8 Series is no longer sold here and any such feature is unknown to us. SAE Standard J910 "Vehicular Hazard Warning Signal Operating Switch" January 1966, incorporated by reference in Standard No. 108, defines hazard signals as "driver actuated." However, we would not view automatic activation of the hazard signals in the event of a crash as a noncompliance with Standard No. 108 since there can be no ambiguity about the signal's meaning at that point.

Frank Seales, Jr.
Chief Counsel