Officer Richard L. Purvis #4726

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This document retrieved from the NHTSA legal interpretations database.

Officer, Richard L. Purvis #4726
Arizona DPS Highway Patrol
District 13
2610 South 16 Street
Phoenix, AZ 85040

Dear Officer Purvis:

This is in reply to your letter of January 16, 2000, with respect to aftermarket clear lamp assemblies.

You report that you have cited motorists for using replacement lamp assemblies that "have totally clear exteriors," having "no red reflectors on the rear product and no amber reflectors on the front product." You would now like to bring enforcement actions against sellers of this equipment, and you have asked "to have any Federal standards reference material that shows clearly that all U.S. vehicles must have the red rear reflective lenses and the amber front reflectors."

The basic Federal motor vehicle safety lighting regulation is 49 CFR 571.108 Standard No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices and Associated Equipment. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 applies to both original and replacement lighting equipment. Title 49 U.S.C. 30115 and Standard No. 108 require that all lighting equipment that is intended to replace original lighting equipment be certified as complying with Standard No. 108. Paragraph S5.8.10 allows the certification to be in the form of a DOT symbol on the product. If the certification is not on the product, Section 30115 requires it to be on a label or tag on the item or the box in which the lighting item is shipped. Therefore, in any enforcement action, it is important for us to examine the item or its container for certification to see whether the certification requirement of Section 30115 is being met.

Table I of Standard No. 108 (applicable to trucks, multipurpose passenger vehicles and buses whose overall width is 60 inches or more) and Table III (applicable to motor vehicles whose overall width is less than 60 inches) require front parking lamps to be white or amber, and front turn signal lamps and front side marker lamps and reflectors to be amber, and all rear and rear side lamps and reflectors to be red, (except that amber is permitted as an optional rear turn signal lamp color, and white is required for backup lamps). The colors themselves must meet the requirements of SAE Standard J578c, Color Specification for Electrical Signal Lighting Devices, February 1977. The colors amber and red may be produced by either a white bulb and amber or red inner or outer lens, or by an amber or red bulb and a colorless or clear lens.

Manufacturers are producing amber bulbs that meet the SAE color requirements. Thus, a replacement turn signal lamp incorporating a clear lens and an amber bulb is permitted by Standard No. 108 if it is certified by its manufacturer as discussed above. However, the same lamp with a bulb that is clear, blue, green, or any color other than amber would not be in compliance with Standard No. 108.

The clear lens - red bulb lamp raises different considerations. A red bulb is very expensive to manufacture, as gold must be used in order to meet the color specifications for red imposed by the standard. In fact, we know of no manufacturer who is producing a red bulb that is intended to make signal lamps with colorless lenses comply with Standard No. 108.

Your letter recounts another problem we have encountered with this type of replacement taillamp, i.e., the absence of a red reflex reflector on the lamp, and possibly the absence of a red reflex reflector on the side at the rear. If the original lamp incorporated a red reflex reflector(s) and the replacement lamp does not (and a separate reflector(s) is not provided in the package), the substitution of the new lamp for the old one will create a noncompliance with Standard No. 108, as the vehicle will no longer meet the requirements of Tables I and III, which require red reflex reflectors and side red reflex reflectors. The same would be true for the front, if amber side reflex reflectors were absent. You will be interested to know that one importer, American Products Company of Corona, California, is currently in the process of recalling 28,542 replacement taillamp lenses which were clear in color and lacked side and rear red reflex reflectors.

The removal of the original lamp and substitution of one that does not meet the color specifications for red or any other required color, or the removal of a lamp incorporating a reflex reflector(s) and replacing it with a lamp that has none, would be violations of Federal law, specifically 49 U.S.C. 30122, if performed by a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business.

You also mention that sales of this replacement equipment may be a violation "of the business license to sell illegal and unsafe safety products," and ask if we have "any federal publications . . . that deal with this issue." We have no publications or advisories that would help you. However, I would like to point out that, under 49 U.S.C. 30112(a), it is a violation of Federal law to sell, or offer for sale, any item of motor vehicle equipment unless it complies with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards and is certified as complying under Section 30115. Thus, the businesses that you mentioned may be violating this Section.

If you have information indicating that manufacturers or distributors are offering noncomplying signal lamps and that motor vehicle equipment dealers are selling or installing them, please send this information to Ms. Marilynne Jacobs, Director, Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 400 Seventh Street SW, Washington, DC 20950.

We have seen no insurance industry articles of the nature that concerns you.

If you have further questions, you may phone Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).

Frank Seales, Jr.
Chief Counsel


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This site is not affiliated with any Federal, State, or Local organization.  The goal is to be as factual as possible, however, the views expressed on this site are the opinions of the author and should not be used to determine the legality of motor vehicle equipment in accordance with Federal laws.  If you require a legal interpretation of your specific situation concerning FMVSS No. 108, you should contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Chief Counsel.