[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 18 (Friday, January 26, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 3667-3670]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-01403]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Part 571


Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108; Lamp, Reflective 
Devices, and Associated Equipment; Denial of Petition for Rulemaking

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), U. S. 
Department of Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Denial of petition for rulemaking.

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SUMMARY: This document denies a petition for rulemaking submitted by 
Mr. William H. Thompson III requesting NHTSA amend Federal Motor 
Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, Lamps, reflective devices, and 
associated equipment. Specifically, Mr. Thompson requested we revise 
the activation process for red and amber signal warning lamps on school 
buses to require a new intermediate step during which both colors are 
activated simultaneously and flash in an alternating pattern and that 
we decouple the process by which lamps transition to the red-only 
configuration from the opening of the bus entrance door. NHTSA is 
denying this petition because Mr. Thompson has not identified a safety 
need to justify making changes he requested, and Mr. Thompson did not 
provide persuasive quantitative data to show adopting his requested 
changes would result in a net benefit to safety.

DATES: The petition is denied as of January 26, 2018.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Wayne McKenzie, Office of Crash 
Avoidance Standards (Phone: 202-366-1810; Fax: 202-366-7002) or Mr. 
Daniel Koblenz, Office of the Chief Counsel

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(Phone: 202-366-2992; Fax: 202-366-3820). You may mail these officials 
at: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey 
Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

I. The Petition

    On October 28, 2012, NHTSA received a letter from Mr. William H. 
Thompson III containing a petition for rulemaking to amend certain 
aspects of Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) No. 108 
relating to school buses equipped with red and amber signal warning 
lamps.\1\ In his petition, Mr. Thompson requested NHTSA add an 
intermediate lamp configuration to the activation process for signal 
warning lamps between the existing amber-only and red-only 
configurations during which the amber and red lamps are both activated 
and alternate flashing. Additionally, he requested the transition from 
this intermediate amber-and-red configuration to the red-only 
configuration be controlled by a timer rather than by the bus door 
opening mechanism. Mr. Thompson stated adding an intermediate amber-
and-red configuration that is activated for a fixed period of time 
would improve the effectiveness with warning other drivers when the bus 
is stopping for children as compared to the existing system. According 
to Mr. Thompson, these changes would reduce confusion regarding the 
meaning of signal warning lamps, which could in turn reduce the 
frequency with which other drivers engage in unsafe driving behaviors 
such as illegally passing school buses while their red signal warning 
lamps are activated (so-called ``stop-arm violations'').
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    \1\ Since Mr. Thompson filed his petition, NHTSA issued a final 
rule reorganizing almost all aspects of FMVSS No. 108. This final 
rule did not make any substantive changes to the standard and did 
not affect our analysis of Mr. Thompson's petition. However, it did 
rearrange paragraphs within the standard, and as a result, paragraph 
numbers Mr. Thompson cited in his petition are no longer accurate.
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    FMVSS No. 108, Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment, 
currently requires new school buses be equipped with four red signal 
warning lamps and allows for the optional installation of four amber 
signal warning lamps. The red lamps must be placed on the front and 
rear of the bus cab (two on the front and two on the rear) as high and 
as far apart as practicable, with optional amber lamps placed inboard 
of red lamps. Under the existing signal warning lamp activation 
requirements, a school bus driver manually activates the amber signal 
warning lamps by actuating a switch to indicate to other drivers that 
the bus is preparing to pick up or drop off children. Amber lamps stay 
activated until the driver opens the bus entrance door, at which time 
amber lamps automatically deactivate and red lamps automatically 
activate to indicate children are in the process of boarding or 
offloading the bus.
    Mr. Thompson argued, in his petition, the current signal warning 
lamp activation process causes uncertainty among other drivers, and 
this uncertainty constitutes a safety need that justifies amending 
FMVSS No. 108. Specifically, Mr. Thompson claimed current signal 
warning lamps do not effectively communicate when the bus will begin 
the process of picking up or dropping off children because amber lamps 
do not transition to red until the bus door is actually open (i.e., 
until boarding or offloading has begun). According to Mr. Thompson, 
this uncertainty among other drivers leads to ``risk factors'' in the 
form of unsafe driving behaviors, such as ``passing school buses while 
the red signal lamps are flashing and stop arm is extended and being 
cited by law enforcement, making a `panic stop' to avoid passing the 
school bus as not to break the law and making a sudden stop and having 
a following motorist caught unaware.'' These risk factors, in turn, 
could lead to injury or death of children and other road users.
    To address this perceived safety risk, Mr. Thompson requested NHTSA 
amend FMVSS No. 108 to revise activation requirements for school bus 
signal warning lamps so they more clearly indicate the status of the 
school bus to other drivers. Per his petition, upon approaching a bus 
stop, the bus driver would activate amber flashing signal lamps by 
actuating a switch as is done under the existing rule. However, as the 
bus makes its final approach, the bus driver would actuate the signal 
warning lamp switch a second time, which would activate an intermediate 
signal warning lamp configuration during which amber and red signal 
warning lamps are activated and alternate flashing. This new 
configuration would be activated for a fixed period (the petition 
suggests approximately 3 seconds) after which the signal warning lamp 
system would automatically progress to a red-only configuration and the 
stop sign would deploy. The transition to the red-only configuration 
signals other drivers to come to a complete stop and indicates to the 
bus driver it is safe to open the bus door to pick up or drop off 
children. According to Mr. Thompson, a 3 second intermediate step is 
sufficiently long to warn other drivers that the bus is preparing to 
stop, which will reduce some of risk factors described above.

II. Agency Analysis

    We are denying Mr. Thompson's petition on two bases. First, we do 
not believe confusion over the meaning of school bus signal warning 
lamps is a safety need that must be addressed by amending the lighting 
standard. Second, Mr. Thomson has not provided data persuasively 
demonstrating changes he proposed would lead to a net benefit for 
vehicle safety. We explain our reasoning in more detail below.
    a. Mr. Thompson has not demonstrated that uncertainty over the 
meaning of signal warning lamps is a safety need that must be 
addressed.
    Congress enacted the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (the ``Safety 
Act'') for the purpose of ``reduc[ing] traffic accidents and deaths and 
injuries resulting from traffic accidents.'' \2\ To accomplish this, 
the Safety Act authorizes NHTSA to promulgate FMVSSs as well as to 
engage in other activities such as research and development. Because 
NHTSA has limited resources with which to accomplish goals of the 
Safety Act, the agency must make choices about how to most effectively 
and efficiently allocate resources. Accordingly, we will not take 
action under our Safety Act authority if we do not believe doing so 
will further interests of vehicle safety. In the context of petitions 
for rulemaking filed under 49 CFR part 552, this means we will not 
grant a petition to amend an FMVSS unless we believe doing so will 
address a traffic-related safety need.
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    \2\ 49 U.S.C. 30111.
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    Mr. Thompson has not shown such a safety need exists in this case. 
As noted earlier, Mr. Thompson argued in his petition that confusion 
over the meaning of signal warning lamps is a significant safety risk 
because it leads to unsafe driving behavior around school buses. To 
make his case, Mr. Thompson cited several sources, including two NHTSA 
publications (one survey and one guidance document) and two State-
sponsored studies of stop-arm violations.\3\ While we agree with Mr.

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Thompson that these sources support the conclusion that school bus 
stop-arm violations are a problem, they do not support Mr. Thompson's 
assertion that stop-arm violations and other unsafe driving behavior is 
because of uncertainty over signal warning lamps.
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    \3\ In addition to these studies, Mr. Thompson provided other 
types of evidence. For example, Mr. Thompson stated ``expert 
evidence'' indicates drivers who see amber lamps tend to speed up to 
try and ``get past the bus'' before red lamps activate. Mr. Thompson 
asserted signal warning lamp systems could potentially be misused 
under existing requirements but admitted the sort of misuse he 
described is ``probably not a common occurrence.'' However, because 
this information is unsourced and anecdotal, we cannot use it as a 
basis in our evaluation for concluding a safety risk exists.
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    We will first address the two NHTSA publications Mr. Thompson 
cited. The first NHTSA publication was our 1997 National Survey on 
Speeding and Unsafe Driving Attitudes and Behaviors, which contains a 
finding that 99 percent of drivers believed stop-arm violations were 
the most egregious type of moving violation.\4\ As the title suggests, 
this is a survey of public opinion; it does not make any conclusions 
based on empirical data about the frequency or cause of stop-arm 
violations and does not contain information relevant to evaluating 
whether these violations are because of uncertainty regarding the 
meaning of signal warning lamps. The other NHTSA publication Mr. 
Thompson cited was our 2000 Best Practices Guide on Reducing Illegal 
Passing of School Buses.\5\ This publication does not include empirical 
data supporting Mr. Thompson's proposal. Moreover, the policy proposal 
this document contains focuses on addressing the problem of stop-arm 
violations through a combination of educational and enforcement 
initiatives, not changes to FMVSS No. 108.
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    \4\ DOT HS 809 688, available at https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/speed_volII_finding/SpeedVolumeIIFindingsFinal.pdf. (Please note that the survey was 
updated in 2002, but kept the same DOT HS number).
    \5\ Available at https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/buses/2000schoolbus/index.htm.
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    The two State-sponsored studies Mr. Thompson cited do not support 
Mr. Thompson's proposition that uncertainty over signal warning lamps 
is a safety risk. The first study Mr. Thompson cited was conducted by 
the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.\6\ That study 
documented occurrences of stop-arm violations but does not establish 
their underlying causes.\7\ The second study Mr. Thompson cited was 
sponsored by the Florida Department of Education.\8\ Unlike the North 
Carolina study, the Florida study drew conclusions regarding causes of 
stop-arm violations, stating ``while many motorists clearly do not 
understand the law as it applies to this situation, many more motorists 
are, in fact, intentionally violating the law.''
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    \6\ Available at http://www.ncbussafety.org/StopArmViolationCamera/.
    \7\ In a more recent study conducted in October 2013 by the 
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, authors explicitly 
stated the question of why stop-arm violations occur must be studied 
further, and confusing signal warning lamps are just one of several 
possible reasons for this problems. See Pilot Testing of a School 
Bus Stop Arm Camera System (October 2013), available at http://www.ncbussafety.org/StopArmViolationCamera/documents/2013%2010%2030%20Final%20ITRE_stoparm_Camera_report.pdf.
    \8\ University of South Florida College of Engineering, Center 
for Urban Transportation Research, Motorist Comprehension of 
Florida's School Bus Stop Law and School Bus Signalization Devices: 
Final Report (June 1997), available at https://www.cutr.usf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/school.pdf.
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    While the publications Mr. Thompson cited may demonstrate stop-arm 
violations are a safety problem, they do not support his conclusion 
that uncertainty over the meaning of signal warning lamps constitutes a 
safety need that must be addressed through amendments to FMVSS No. 108. 
None of the publications he cited link uncertainty regarding the 
meaning of signal warning lamps to unsafe driving behaviors in any 
significant way, and in fact could be read as supporting the opposite 
conclusion--drivers understand the signal warning lamps but (at least 
in some instances) are simply choosing to ignore them.
    b. Mr. Thompson has not provided us with data showing persuasive 
evidence that the change he proposes will provide a positive effect on 
safety.
    As we explained in our 1998 statement of policy on signal lighting, 
when evaluating petitions to add or amend signal lighting requirements, 
we look at whether the petitioner has provided data that ``show[s] 
persuasive evidence of a positive safety impact.'' \9\ If we cannot 
determine the change will positively affect safety, ``NHTSA will not 
change its regulations to permit the new signal lighting idea, because 
that would negatively affect standardization of signal lighting.'' In 
other words, a petitioner requesting an amendment to an existing signal 
lighting requirement must provide data persuading us the change will 
have a benefit to safety outweighing detriments to safety that will 
occur because of reduced standardization of signal lighting.
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    \9\ Statement of Policy, 63 FR 59482 (Nov. 4, 1998).
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    Because NHTSA does not have resources to sponsor research on most 
of the lighting ideas proposed, we rely on petitioners to provide us 
with data to evaluate whether a requested change to signal lighting 
requirements will provide a net benefit to vehicle safety. Mr. 
Thompson's petition did not provide us with such data. Rather, 
information Mr. Thompson provided falls into one of two categories: 
Information supporting the general assertion stop-arm violations are a 
problem (i.e., the studies described in the previous section), or 
information explaining how he developed specific aspects of this 
proposal (i.e., he chose a duration of 3 seconds for the intermediate 
lamp configuration because that is the duration of the yellow light on 
a traffic signal for 25 mile-per-hour traffic). Mr. Thompson's petition 
included no clear data demonstrating the changes he proposed would be 
beneficial for vehicle safety.
    Given that Mr. Thompson did not provide proof of an offsetting 
safety benefit, we are concerned the changes he proposed may lead to a 
decrease in vehicle safety because they would disrupt signal light 
standardization, which could cause driver confusion. As we have 
explained repeatedly through years of letters of interpretation,\10\ as 
well as our prior responses to other petitions made under Part 552,\11\ 
the effectiveness of all signal lamps (including school bus signal 
warning lamps) is premised on driver familiarity with established 
lighting schemes. For decades, the knowledge that flashing amber signal 
warning lamps on a school bus indicate a school bus is preparing to 
stop and flashing red signal warning lamps indicate children are 
boarding or offloading, has been ingrained in the mind of the driving 
public. Changing how school bus warning lamps operate by adding Mr. 
Thompson's intermediate configuration would disrupt this well-
understood scheme. This could increase driver confusion until such time 
all buses use the new lighting scheme and drivers become familiar with 
the new lighting scheme.
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    \10\ See, e.g., letter to James A. Haigh (April 8, 2008), 
available at https://isearch.nhtsa.gov/files/07-005005as.htm.
    \11\ See, e.g., NovaBUS, Inc.: Denial of Application for 
Decision of Inconsequential Compliance, 67 FR 31862 (May 10, 2002).
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    Relatedly, we are also concerned about Mr. Thompson's other 
proposal to tie the activation of the red-only signal warning lamp 
configuration to a 3 second timer rather than to the opening of the bus 
entrance door. The current standard requires amber signal warning lamps 
deactivate and red signal warning lamps activate automatically upon the 
opening of the bus entrance door. Under this system, red lamps are only 
ever activated when the bus is in the process of picking up or dropping 
off children. By contrast, under Mr. Thompson's scheme, the red-only 
configuration necessarily activates before bus doors open. This could 
confuse drivers who have learned red signal warning lamps are only 
activated when children are in the process of boarding or offloading.
    Finally, we note the Florida-sponsored study discussed in the

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previous section found significant driver confusion over the legal 
obligations applying to drivers when they encounter a school bus with 
flashing signal warning lamps. (This is distinct from the confusion Mr. 
Thompson identifies as a safety risk, which is over the meaning of the 
signal warning lamps themselves.) Given there is evidence drivers are 
already confused about laws relating to stop-arm violations, we do not 
think it would be beneficial for safety to make the signal warning lamp 
activation sequence more complex than it already is (as would be the 
case under Mr. Thompson's request).
    For these reasons in accordance with 49 CFR part 552, Mr. 
Thompson's October 28, 2012, petition for rulemaking is denied.

    Issued on January 12, 2018, in Washington, DC, under authority 
delegated in 49 CFR 1.95 and 501.5.
Heidi R. King,
Deputy Administrator.
[FR Doc. 2018-01403 Filed 1-25-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 4910-59-P