Bring on the chicken lights?

| Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Truckers who add lights around the three-lamp identification cluster now have a free pass to do so – or do they?

In a June 11 Federal Register notice, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration eliminated the prohibition on adding lights on the same horizontal line as the identification cluster.

The revised regulation eliminates a conflict between an earlier version of the FMCSA regulation and guidance issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.

The elimination is the result of FMCSA officials granting a petition for reconsideration submitted by the Truck Manufacturers Association shortly after FMCSA introduced the new regulation in 2005, which created the conflict.

FMCSA’s previous regulation on parts and accessories necessary for safe operation opened a big can of worms in late 2005. The now-deleted provision in 393.11 limited the number of lights on the horizontal line containing the identification lamps for trucks and trailers to a maximum of five lights – the three-lamp identification cluster in the center and clearance lights on the outer edges of the truck or trailer.

The “logic” behind the regulation was that the identification lamps are readily known to indicate a large vehicle, and having auxiliary lights next to the identification lamps would be confusing to other drivers on the road.

To further complicate the situation, NHTSA issued enforcement guidance on a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that allowed additional lights on either side of the cluster – as long as the auxiliary lights are at least two times the distance that separates two adjacent lamps in the cluster.

In the meantime, NHTSA officials are pushing to make the restrictions part of the safety standards as well.

NHTSA officials published a proposed rulemaking to make that guidance part of the regulations. OOIDA submitted comments urging the agency to regulate the minimum number of lights and not a maximum number. The Association also sent a letter to FMCSA urging the agency to clear up the conflict between the regulations.

The final NHTSA rule is pending.

Even if NHTSA incorporates a spacing requirement into its regulations, it will not prohibit truckers from adding lights. That regulation will only apply to original equipment manufactures. What happens in the aftermarket would not be impacted by the regulation.

The only restriction would have to come from FMCSA, and that was eliminated.

However, there is still an enforcement memo floating around directing enforcement of the spacing requirement that could rear its ugly head during an inspection or traffic stop.

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