Timothy O. Bartlett, Vice President
Bartlett Industries, Inc.
214 Morgan Parkway
Zebulon, NC 27957
Dear Mr. Bartlett:
This is in reply to your undated letter to George Soodoo of this agency, which we received in mid-October 2001. Your company manufactures the Bartlett Safety Hazards (BSH), a product that activates a motor vehicle's hazard warning system "at any point of impact."
Enclosed with your letter were copies of letters from this Office on activation of hazard warning systems. In our letter to Karl F. Milde, Jr., dated November 9, 1987, we informed Mr. Milde that we saw no Federal prohibition against installation of a circuit that would activate the hazard warning system at a predetermined rate of speed as long as it did not impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required by Standard No. 108 (See S5.1.3 which prohibits the addition of motor vehicle equipment that has an impairing effect on required lighting equipment). However, a series of more recent letters reflect our opinion that hazard warning system lamps must be activated and deactivated by the driver (letters of February 15, 2001, to Paul Michelotti, February 29, 2000, to Eric Reed, and February 25, 2000, to Mark Steele). This conclusion was based upon the definition of hazard warning systems by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) as "driver actuated."
The one exception to driver actuation that our recent letters reflect is automatic activation of the hazard warning system in the aftermath of a vehicle crash. As we informed Mr. Steele, "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." Other past interpretations reflect our view that ambiguous signals may have an impairing effect on required lighting
equipment. Although we did not elaborate further in our letter to Mr. Steele, we meant that a device that automatically activates the hazard warning signals after a crash was not prohibited by S5.1.3.
You described the BSH as "impact activated hazard lights" without specifying the type or severity of the impact. Your letter implies that the BSH is activated in a crash rather than a low-speed impact such as may occur during a parking maneuver. You wrote that when the BHS is activated, "approaching cars are given a 'heads up' that an accident has just occurred." In addition, you stated that "BSH, especially in one-car accidents, give notice to passing motorists and/or police that an accident has just occurred." The BSH, therefore, appears to be a crash-activated system of the type deemed not prohibited by S5.1.3 in the letter to Mr. Steele. However, the fact that a device may not be prohibited under Federal law must not be represented to the public as Federal approval or endorsement of the device.
Manufacturers of equipment not prohibited by S5.1.3 should ensure that installation of the equipment does not cause a noncompliance with any Federal motor vehicle safety standard that applied to the vehicle when it was manufactured.
We understand that you have filed a petition for rulemaking for an amendment to Standard No. 108 to specifically allow BHS. You will be informed in due course by the Associate Administrator for Safety Performance Standards whether the petition has been granted.
Acting Chief Counsel