Whither FMVSS 108?

June 1, 2006
FOR 15 YEARS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) talked about rewriting Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 108. It

FOR 15 YEARS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) talked about rewriting Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 108.

It finally came on December 30, 2005 — in the form of a 147-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register (Docket Number NHTSA-2006-23634).

“We refer to that as our Christmas present,” says Brad Van Riper, past president of the Transportation Safety Equipment Institute (TSEI) and VP of research and development for Truck-Lite.

TSEI — which, along with the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) and the Motor Vehicle Lighting Council (MVLC), decided to be the voice of the lighting industry — couldn't return the present, so they did the next best thing: They spent thousands of man-hours in meetings and conference calls, emerging March 30 with a 122-page comment that has been submitted to NHTSA.

Van Riper says the issue is of particular interest to trailer manufacturers because “by clarifying and simplifying the standards, it becomes easier to understand the location and mounting regulations. Many times they're the ones responsible for certifying the vehicles. If you have a really complicated standard, you have to weigh heavy on suppliers and engineers that you employ to understand the location requirements so that you have all the right lights in the right places. Because it's a sad feeling when you get your vehicles running down the line and somebody recognizes that there is an issue.”

FMVSS was authored in the 1960s. Since then, there have been numerous additions in response to new technology, producing a document that Van Riper describes as unwieldy and confusing.

“You have to be a long-time expert lighting engineer or OEM in order to understand how to find all of the items,” he says. “I think the concept of a rewrite is long overdue. I think the basic premise of the rewrite is to organize FMVSS 108 in an easier format, to not change any of the current laws we're governed by and to try to clarify and correct some issues without changing the intent of the law.

“I think the consensus is that it's a good attempt at reorganizing, but it still needs to be organized better. Ultimately, we want to see a better organized document. We think it will make for more consistently made lighting products. We'd like to see improvements made in the ability of the government to enforce the standard on a non-compliant company, so (the company) can't say, ‘We didn't understand the standard.’”

Groups' comments

The groups' comments consist of 26 pages of text and 96 pages of tables and charts. (In the comments, they are referred to collectively as MEMA/TSEI/MVLC or the Associations).

MEMA represents more than 700 motor vehicle product manufacturers with nearly 12,000 US plant locations and 1.2 million employees. These companies supply the US automotive and truck industry with original and replacement components, including equipment regulated by FMVSS 108, for the 17 million new vehicles produced annually and the 214 million vehicles on the road. TSEI is a non-profit trade association representing North American manufacturers of vehicle safety equipment, including headlighting and signal lighting products, rearview mirrors, reflex reflectors, emergency warning triangles, emergency lighting, and other safety equipment for emergency service and related vehicles. MVLC represents many of the world's leading automotive lighting companies, which are committed to bringing new lighting advancements to the market to increase performance and safety benefits.

The key elements of their proposal, as they relate to the rewrite's organization, are:

  • “A number of modifications were made that move device requirements into their specific sections. We believe that it is much easier for the user of the document to have all relevant requirements relating to a particular device included in one section.”

  • “New categories were created to deal specifically with ‘non-signal lamps.’ ‘Miscellaneous Lamps’ and ‘Reflective Devices’ were created to deal with the unique nature of these devices. The testing of these devices is typically different from that of signal lamps and, therefore, believed to be better placed in separate categories.”

  • “The sections in paragraph S7.14 referring to ‘Associated Equipment’ were removed and made into a separate category. Additionally, all related requirements found in the proposed re-write were consolidated into this section. Associated equipment is typically non-lighting equipment with unique requirements from that of signal and marking lamps. It is also easier to find in the document under its own heading. Hazard warning lamps were included in this section because the function only deals with the equipment and activation methods. Turn signal lamps are principally used for this function and their requirements are handled in their respective section.”

  • “Individual sections were modified to incorporate the vehicle and component general requirements before the specific lamp type requirements. This is recommended just as a preference for general organizational structure; general requirements first, followed by specific device requirements. S6 now becomes ‘Vehicle and General Lighting Requirements’ and contains no specific device requirements.”

  • “Paragraph S6.2 Impairment was restructured such that the device requirements were placed into their respective areas, and S6.2.2 (regarding obstructions) was moved elsewhere as a parallel requirement rather than a sub-requirement of ‘impairment.’”

  • “Sealed Beam Lamps were moved to the end, because they are seldom used and yet fit into the overall organizational structure. Our proposed structure contains 19 sections. As shown in Appendix 1, the new section numbering appears to the left of the section name, and the agency's proposed section number (from the NPRM) appears to the right of the section name. Blue and purple highlights are used to indicate the sections that were moved. We request that the agency adopt this approach, as we believe it will lead to an even more user-friendly standard.”

Dual units of measure

Regarding dual units of measure, the groups wrote:

  • “Throughout the proposed rule, the agency alternates between English and metric units of measure. We request that the agency cite dual units, ie, both the English and metric unit of measure in the final rule. The simultaneous use of both English and metric units will provide maximum utility and understanding among all personnel who use FMVSS 108.

  • “The Associations' proposed tables (included in Appendix 2) reflect dual English/metric units, to be consistent with the SAE convention. We also request that the dual units be noted as inches and centimeters. (Use of centimeters rather than millimeters will eliminate large numbers in the rule.) In the alternative, we request that the agency adopt metric units consistently throughout the revised standard. Metric units are widely used by the SAE and international standards bodies.”

Regarding multiple lighted sections:

  • “The agency uses the terms ‘multiple lighted sections,’ ‘multiple compartment lamp’ and ‘multiple lamps’ variously throughout the proposed rule, but the agency defines only the term ‘multiple compartment lamp.’ Tables VI, VII, vm and IX use the term ‘lighted sections,’ while the text of the propose rule primarily refers to ‘compartments.’

“For purposes of consistency, we request that the agency exclusively use the term ‘lighted sections’ throughout the document. The consistent use of the term ‘lighted sections’ will eliminate confusion, especially among those who are not as actively involved in the lighting industry. The term ‘lighted sections’ has been adopted by SAE to describe lamp performance, because it better reflects current lamp design. The proposed definition for ‘multiple compartment lamp’ can be retained by simply changing the phrase ‘multiple compartment lamp’ to ‘multiple lighted sections lamp.’”

Regarding “designed to conform” versus “must conform”:

  • “In numerous places throughout the proposed rule, the agency uses such phrases as ‘must conform,’ ‘shall conform’ or ‘conforming to the requirements of …’

We assume such references were inadvertent, and that the agency intended to state ‘shall be designed to conform’ or variations thereof. As the agency is aware, this is an important distinction. It recognizes the engineering and manufacturing challenges attendant to the design and production of lighting equipment, and has been part of the lighting standard since FMVSS 108 was first adopted. The use of ‘must conform’ versus ‘designed to conform’ in the standard would constitute a substantial change to the requirements.”

Signal lamp

Regarding signal lamp photometry figures:

“The photometry figures in 108 and the photometry tables in the 108 rewrite arranged by zone make it difficult to understand and visualize the photometry pattern, zones, and test point values. The rewrite is not consistent and has some photometry tables organized by zone (table VI, VII, VIII, etc) and some tables organized by test points (tables X, XI, and XII).

“New figures can be organized to help all users instantly visualize the pattern and zonal requirements while showing the test point values required. These new visual figures arrange the test point & zone pattern as they would be projected on a photometry ‘wall’. The test point values would be organized in figures normally reading left to right and top to bottom. This would also be consistent with the Headlamp Tables.

“Packaging, Optic, Evaluation and Test Lab Engineers would be able to recognize the pattern much easier. When packaging, designing optics or evaluating a lamp, a clear understanding of the required pattern is needed. Light must be designed to the test points in the pattern not the zone and location of a failing test point must be clearly identified when evaluating performance issues.”

Regarding Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) references:

  • “We note that the agency has chosen not to include several SAE documents directly into the proposed rule and instead will be listing those non-incorporated SAE documents in 49 CFR 571.5(j), to be adopted in the future. We agree with the agency's observation that the non-incorporated SAE documents may not be frequently used, but the Associations' nonetheless prefer that all SAE references be incorporated into FMVSS 108. We believe that there is value in eliminating as many external document references as possible, thereby creating a single stand-alone source for all of the agency's FMVSS 108 compliance requirements.”

Van Riper said many of the SAE standards mentioned in FMVSS 108 include obsolete SAE references to documents that date back to 1972.

“They tried to integrate text to agree with SAE and didn't do that good of a job,” he says. “Table 1 is five pages. It'd take a five-page review just to find the point of reference for a specific standard. We've asked them to reorganize the text so the tables are individually market.”

Van Riper also said FMVSS 108 includes a number of points about stop lamps that are scattered throughout the document.

“We believe you need to have all stop-lamp requirements with the stop lamps, all tail-lamp requirements with the tail lamps, and all turn-signal lamps with the turn-signal lamps,” he says. “I think it'd make it easier for the government on the enforcement side to have a set of test requirements and standards that are easy to find and coordinated.”

Van Riper says he understands that NHTSA has hired a subcontractor — the same one who originally developed the rewrite — to analyze the groups' comments and develop a plan for how to address them.

He says the groups hope to schedule a meeting with NHTSA in Washington, DC, this summer to learn more.

“We're going to continue to press toward a further reorganization and try to encourage NHTSA to take our recommendations,” he says. “It gets done once every 40 years. We want to have it done really well so it's easier to add sections without losing organizational benefits that are going to come from this change.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.