[Federal Register Volume 66, Number 141 (Monday, July 23, 2001)]
[Pages 38340-38342]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 01-18307]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2000-7744; Notice 2]

General Motors Corporation; Denial of Application for Decision of 
Inconsequential Noncompliance

    General Motors Corporation (GM) of Warren, Michigan, determined 
that certain headlamps on 1999 Buick Century and Buick Regal models do 
not meet the photometric requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety 
Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, ``Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated 
Equipment,'' and filed the report required by 49 CFR part 573, 
notifying the agency of the noncompliance. GM has also applied to be 
exempted from the notification and remedy requirements of 49 U.S.C. 
chapter 301--``Motor Vehicle Safety'' on the basis that the 
noncompliance is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety.
    Notice of receipt of the application was published in the Federal 
Register (65 FR 49632) on August 14, 2000. Opportunity was afforded for 
public comment until September 13, 2000. One comment was received from 
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates).
    GM manufactured 201,472 Buick Century and Buick Regal models 
between October 1998 and June 1999, some of whose headlamps do not meet 
the photometric requirements in FMVSS No. 108 for test points above the 
horizontal (intended for overhead sign illumination). To evaluate the 
noncompliance, GM randomly collected 10 pairs of lamps from production 
and photometrically tested them. Additionally, GM tested the same 10 
pairs of lamps using accurately-rated bulbs. These are bulbs that have 
their filaments positioned within strict tolerances. In large scale 
bulb production, the filament positions vary slightly and, therefore, 
can produce varying photometric output. The photometric output of a 
lamp using an accurately-rated bulb is intended to closely represent 
the output that was intended in its design, and not that which would 
occur in a mass produced headlamp as sold on motor vehicles.
    The test results indicate that five test points (production bulbs) 
and three test points (accurately-rated bulbs), respectively, failed to 
meet the minimum candela requirements. The test results also indicate 
that the amount of light below the minimum required was generally less 
than 10 percent at all noncomplying test points. However, seven 
failures at certain test points that were greater than 16 percent below 
the minimum, with the maximum variation being 24.4 percent (at 1.5 
degrees up) with a production bulb. Transport Canada conducted tests on 
headlamps used on the same types of vehicles, and found that all the 
test points in question met the requirements. GM believes that these 
results show the noncomplying results were related to manufacturing 
variations and were present in only a portion of the lamps.
    GM supports its application for inconsequential noncompliance with 
the following statements:

    The test points at issue are all above the horizon and are 
intended to measure illumination of overhead signs. They do not 
represent areas of the beam that illuminate the road surface, and 
the headlamps still fulfill applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety 
Standard 108 requirements regarding road illumination.
    For years the rule of thumb has been that a 25 percent 
difference in light intensity is not significant to most people for 
certain lighting conditions.
    GM has not received any complaints from owners of the subject 
vehicles about their ability to see overhead signs.
    GM is not aware of any accidents, injuries, owner complaints or 
field reports related to this condition for these vehicles.

    GM also cites a number of inconsequentiality applications that the 
agency has granted in the past as support for granting its application. 
Those cited were submitted by GM [59 FR 65428; December 19, 1994], 
Subaru of America, [56 FR 59971; November 26, 1991], and Hella, Inc. 
[55 FR 37602; September 12, 1990]. GM also cites a University of 
Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) report entitled 
``Just Noticeable Differences for Low-Beam Headlamp Intensities'' 
(UMTRI-97-4, February 1997).
    In the only public comment received, Advocates stated its 
``strongest opposition to NHTSA granting a finding of inconsequential 
noncompliance for the GM headlamps which are the subject of this 
notice.'' Advocates first points out that it believes GM's purported 
lack of complaints about inadequate headlamp illumination has ``no 
merit whatever.'' It believes that it is unlikely that drivers would 

[[Page 38341]]

their driving errors or crashes to a faulty beam. Further, it believes 
it unlikely that an investigating officer at a crash scene would 
consider the characteristics of the beam pattern as the causal factor. 
It goes on to say that crashes may have occurred as a result of the 
noncompliance of which GM is not aware.
    Advocates also discusses the importance of overhead lighting. It 
states that:

    It is especially crucial for adequate levels of lighting to fall 
on the surfaces of high-mounted retroreflectorized traffic control 
devices which advise of vehicle maneuvers, speed limit changes, 
warnings of hazardous conditions, and destination information to 
ensure driver confidence and safety in executing the moment-to-
moment driving task.

    Advocates refers to the amendment of FMVSS No. 108 on January 12, 
1993 [58 FR 3856] which added minimum photometric requirements for 
headlamps for illumination of overhead signs. Advocates reiterates the 
agency's rationale for this rulemaking, that some manufacturers were 
introducing headlamps in the 1980s and 1990s which widely departed from 
the traditional U.S. beam pattern. These headlamps were providing 
inadequate light above the horizontal to illuminate overhead signs.
    We have reviewed the application and disagree with GM that the 
noncompliances are inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. As 
Advocates correctly noted in its comment, the sole purpose of the 1993 
final rule was to establish photometric minima above the horizon so 
that headlamps would sufficiently illuminate overhead signs. Without 
any test point minima specified, some manufacturers were designing 
headlamps that provided very little light above the horizon. Because 
States were choosing retroreflectorized overhead signs rather than the 
more expensive self-illuminated ones, the agency determined that it 
should address the increasing need for illumination of overhead 
reflectorized signs.
    In setting these minima, the agency expected the industry to design 
its headlamps to ensure that production variability would not result in 
noncompliances. GM's own compliance tests show failures that are as 
much as 24.4 percent below the required minima. Each of the ten 
headlamps GM tested had noncomplying test points, with all but two 
having failures that were greater than 14.1 percent below the minimum 
requirement. This testing indicates that there may be a serious flaw in 
the design and/or production of these lamps.
    Although GM states that Transport Canada tested and found all lamps 
to be compliant, the company did not provide any substantiating data, 
or even the number of headlamps tested by Transport Canada. The agency 
contacted Transport Canada and obtained the test data on the subject 
vehicles. Initially, there were four failures at the relevant test 
points. The failures were resolved by reaiming the headlamps one 
quarter degree, an adjustment allowed by the standard. After reaiming, 
Transport Canada found the lamps to be in compliance at the four test 
points where they had previously failed. Although these four lamps were 
found to be in compliance, the need to reaim and the marginal 
compliance at others shows that the design of the lamps was marginal.
    A January 1991 study conducted by UMTRI (UMTRI-91-3) recommended 
certain minimum intensity levels for test points above the horizontal 
that are intended to illuminate signs. UMTRI divided its 
recommendations for minima between three types of retroreflectorized 
signs: enclosed lens, encapsulated lens, and microprismatic, each 
respectively more reflective than the previous. The first two are most 
relevant, as microprismatic signs comprised only about three percent of 
the current signs at that time. UMTRI concluded that, for a test point 
1.5 degrees up, the minimum intensities for the enclosed and 
encapsulated lens signs were 700 and 250 candela (cd), respectively. 
The standard currently requires a minimum of 200 cd. In setting this 
level, the agency expected manufacturers to factor in a certain level 
of design variability to assure compliance. GM's poorest performing 
lamp provided about 150 cd at this test point. The agency finds this 
unacceptable. As Advocates pointed out in its comments, there are many 
critical maneuvers that must be undertaken in low light situations, and 
to not provide sufficient light to illuminate signs is a detriment to 
motor vehicle safety.
    GM cites a number of the agency's previous grants of 
inconsequentiality applications that were based upon our conclusion 
that a change in luminous intensity of approximately 25 percent must 
occur before the human eye can discern a difference. GM also cited an 
UMTRI report [UMTRI-97-4; February 1997] to support its position.
    We believe that these past agency actions and the 1997 UMTRI report 
do not support GM's conclusion. The previous actions and the UMTRI 
report all deal with an observer's ability to see a headlamp or a 
signal light, not the ability to see the light reflected back from 
headlamp-illuminated signs or other reflectors. The inconsequential 
applications which GM cites all involved signal lighting with 
deficiencies in photometric requirements. In all cases, the agency was 
confident that the noncompliant signal lights would still be visible to 
nearby drivers. Because signal lighting is not intended to provide 
roadway illumination to the driver, a less than 25 percent reduction in 
light output at any particular test point is less critical.
    Regarding the UMTRI study on just-noticeable differences for lower-
beam headlamps, the research and findings are mostly analogous to those 
of the signal lighting research. UMTRI's study was designed to evaluate 
the just-noticeable differences for glare intensities of oncoming 
headlamps. Like the signal light research, it was performed from the 
point of view of a driver observing differences in headlamp 
intensities. We are not persuaded by GM's contentions about the meaning 
of this research. In its report, UMTRI states

    The applications of (just noticeable differences) derived from 
judgments about the subjective brightnesses of lamps viewed directly 
seems less of a leap in the case of signal lamp functions, and of 
those aspects of headlamps that involve direct viewing (primarily 
discomfort glare), than in the case of headlamp functions that 
involve the illumination of objects. The primary reason for caution 
in extending the current results to illuminated objects is that the 
range of luminances of such objects (e.g., a pedestrian at 100 
meters illuminated by headlamps at night) will be much lower than 
the luminances of the headlamps themselves. The [research] can 
therefore be used more confidently to justify applying the 25 
percent limit for inconsequential noncompliance to a photometric 
test point that specifies a maximum for glare protection than to one 
that specifies a minimum for seeing light. Further work on the 
effects of changes in lamp intensity on the visibility of 
illuminated objects is desirable to clarify more completely the 
issue of inconsequential noncompliance for headlamps.

    In consideration of the foregoing, NHTSA has decided that the 
applicant has not met its burden of persuasion that the noncompliance 
it describes is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. Accordingly, 
its application is hereby denied, and it must proceed to notify and 
remedy as required by statute.

(49 U.S.C. 30118(d) and 30120(h); delegations of authority at 49 CFR 
1.50 and 501.8)

[[Page 38342]]

    Issued on: July 17, 2001.
Stephen R. Kratzke,
Associate Administrator for Safety Performance Standards.
[FR Doc. 01-18307 Filed 7-20-01; 8:45 am]