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Denial of Petition for Rulemaking Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 105

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

Denial of Petition for Rulemaking Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 105

Barry Felrice
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
May 5, 1994

[Federal Register Volume 59, Number 86 (Thursday, May 5, 1994)]
[Unknown Section]
[Page 0]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 94-10862]

[[Page Unknown]]

[Federal Register: May 5, 1994]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Part 571


Denial of Petition for Rulemaking Federal Motor Vehicle Safety 
Standard No. 105

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.

ACTION: Denial of petition for rulemaking.


SUMMARY: This notice denies a petition for rulemaking by Volkswagen of 
America, Inc. (VW) to amend Standard No. 105 by reducing the required 
height for lettering on antilock brake failure indicator lights. VW 
wants the reduction to facilitate its efforts to develop a single 
indicator light design that complies with both U.S. and Canadian 
requirements. Standard 105 provides that if a separate indicator light 
is provided for antilock brake failure, the indicator must bear one of 
the following: ``Antilock,'' ``Anti-lock'' or ``ABS.'' Canada requires 
use of the ISO brake failure symbol. VW's single design would consist 
of the letters ``ABS'' placed inside the ISO symbol. A letter size 
reduction would enable VW to avoid having to use what it regards as an 
overly large ISO symbol.
    NHTSA is denying this petition for two reasons. First, NHTSA 
believes that reducing the minimum letter height would make it 
impossible for many drivers, particularly elderly ones, to read the 
words and thus discern when there is a brake system failure. Second, 
the agency is not convinced that the international symbol, by itself, 
is sufficiently recognizable to be understood as an indication of brake 
failure by persons unfamiliar with that symbol.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Larry Cook, Office of Vehicle 
Safety Standards, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 400 
Seventh Street SW., Washington, DC 20590, (202) 366-4803.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 
(FMVSS) 101 and 105, promulgated in 1978 and 1976, respectively, 
establish requirements for vehicle panel displays, including indicators 
warning of brake failure. The two FMVSS's prescribe the wording of the 
failure warning displays, as well as their dimensions and colors.
    S5.3.5(a) of FMVSS 105 (Hydraulic Brake Systems) requires that each 
indicator lamp shall have letters which are not less than \1/8\-inch 
high, and which must be visible and legible to a vehicle's driver in 
daylight. In the case of brake warning displays, FMVSS 105 prescribes 
that the word ``Brake'' be used. (S5.3.5(c)(1)). If a separate 
indicator lamp is provided for an anti-lock brake system (ABS), the 
word ``Antilock,'' ``Anti-lock'' or the abbreviation ``ABS'' must be 
used (S5.3.5(c)(1)(C)). Table 2 of FMVSS 101 (Controls and Displays), 
echoes FMVSS 105, permitting use of the words ``antilock,'' ``anti-
lock'' or ``ABS.''
    On July 6, 1993, Volkswagen of America, Inc. (VW) petitioned the 
agency to modify FMVSS 105 to require the letters in the word or 
acronym on the ABS warning indicator to have a minimum height of 2.4 mm 
(\3/32\-inch) instead of the current \1/8\ inch (3.2 mm). VW apparently 
desires the reduction to facilitate its efforts to develop a single 
dashboard indicator light design that complies with both U.S. and 
Canadian requirements. VW stated that Transport Canada had amended 
Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS) 101 to require use of 
the ISO symbol for brake failure. CMVSS 101 requires the ISO symbol to 
be at least \1/8\-inch high. The amendment to CMVSS 101 becomes 
effective on September 1, 1994.
    VW's single design would consist of the letters ``ABS'' placed 
inside the ISO symbol. VW wants the letter size reduction in order to 
avoid having to use what it regards as an overly large ISO symbol. It 
states that in order to put the currently required \1/8\-inch high 
letters inside the ISO symbol, the latter would have to be 10.18 mm 
(\2/5\ inch). VW states that such a size would be three times larger 
than required for all other warning indicators. In the alternative, a 
manufacturer would need two different designs: One for installation in 
vehicles sold in Canada, and one for installation in vehicles sold in 
the United States.
    VW requested the agency to reduce the required minimum dimensions 
for ``ABS,'' when used inside the ISO brake failure symbol, from 3.2 mm 
(\1/8\-inch) high to 2.4 mm (\3/32\-inch) high. It admitted that 
letters inside the symbol would be ``extremely small.'' VW suggested 
that an ISO symbol 7 mm (\1/4\-inch) high could accommodate letters 2.2 
mm (0.0866 inches) high. VW did not state how much larger the ISO 
symbol would have to be to include letters 2.4 mm high, as requested in 
its petition.
    The agency has addressed the issue of the ISO symbol previously. 
For instance, in a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) 
for proposed Standard No. 135, which provides for harmonization of 
international standards for passenger car hydraulic brake systems (see 
56 FR 30528, July 3, 1991), the agency stated that it had denied 
several petitions for inconsequential noncompliance based on the use of 
ISO symbols in place of words or symbols required by Standard No. 101. 
In those cases, the agency stated in the SNPRM, it had believed the 
meaning of the ISO symbols would be unclear or ambiguous to drivers.
    Additionally, the agency conducted a rulemaking proceeding between 
1982 and 1987 in which the agency amended Standard No. 101 by 
permitting various words and symbols to be used, while rejecting 
others. In a NPRM (47 FR 49994, November 4, 1982), the agency discussed 
allowing the ISO symbol for brake failure, and sought comment. It noted 
that the symbol for brakes was of ``particular safety importance'' to 
drivers, and stated the agency's concern that ``the symbol may not be 
immediately recognizable.'' Two years later, in a final rule (49 FR 
30191, July 27, 1984), the agency expressed its concern that ``too many 
symbols, or symbols that are not easily recognizable, are not in the 
public's or industry's interest.'' The agency delayed a decision on 
brake failure warning indicators in that final rule, addressing them 
instead in another final rule issued a year later (50 FR 23426, June 4, 
1985). The agency rejected use of the ISO symbol in the 1985 rule based 
on a study published by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). That 
study found the percentage recognition or understanding of the ISO 
brake symbol among a survey sample of people unfamiliar with that 
symbol to be very low (i.e., about one-quarter of the survey sample). 
By comparison, 87 percent of the survey sample recognized the meaning 
of the word ``brake'' when it was illuminated. In addition, a comment 
from General Motors stated that the ISO was adopting new symbols by 
consensus and without resort to its prior practice of extensive 
international testing as to the symbol's recognizability and 
suitability. In a final rule published on May 28, 1987 (52 FR 19872), 
the agency declined to adopt the ISO symbol as an alternative to the 
words ``Antilock'' or ``ABS'', once again citing the SAE study 
discussed above. In all of the above final rules, the agency discussed 
the desirability of increased harmonization of symbols and words as a 
way to eliminate language barriers and decrease manufacturer costs. 
However, notwithstanding its general wish to increase harmonization, 
NHTSA has consistently deemed it prudent to reject symbols and words 
that could have a negative safety impact, whether in the short run 
during a transitional period of familiarization or in the long run.
    In its petition, VW stated it was not aware of any definitive 
studies showing the need for a \1/8\-inch minimum height requirement 
for lettering on indicator lamps. VW maintained that the slightly 
smaller letters it requested in its petition, combined with the 
slightly larger ISO symbol, would be sufficient to convey the intended 
meaning (i.e., brake failure) to the driver of a vehicle.
    VW points to FMVSS 208 (Occupant Crash Protection), S4.5.1, which 
requires occupant crash protection maintenance schedules to be 
permanently affixed on a label inside the vehicle, as permitting 
letters of \3/32\-inch high. \3/32\-inch (or 2.4 mm) is insignificantly 
larger than the 2.2 mm letter height that VW says would fit inside the 
7 mm ISO symbol.
    NHTSA disagrees with VW's statement that decreasing the minimum 
letter height would have no effect on a driver's ability to understand 
the warning indicator. Contrary to VW's assertion that there is no 
definitive study showing the need for a \1/8\-inch minimum height 
requirement, NHTSA research report, ``Specification of Control 
Illumination Limits'' (DOT-HS-4-00864, 1974) found that instrument-
panel labels consisting of .09 inch letters (2.3 mm, or 0.1 mm smaller 
than that requested by VW) could not be read by older drivers, 
regardless of letter brightness or background contrast. VW has provided 
no data supporting its contention that a letter height of 2.4 mm would 
be readable by all drivers, including older drivers.
    The agency also takes issue with the comparison of the letter 
height requirements of FMVSS 105 and those of FMVSS 208. The words 
required under FMVSS 105 warn of an impending or actual failure in the 
brake system of the vehicle. The indicator light in this situation must 
be seen and understood by all drivers in all lighting conditions as 
quickly as possible. In an emergency situation involving brake failure, 
the agency believes that it would be the word, ``antilock'' or the 
letters ``ABS'' that would convey the desired message. If the minimum 
height of the letters were reduced to the point of illegibility, the 
successful communication of the message would rest solely on the 
accompanying ISO symbol. NHTSA believes that the symbol would not be 
adequate by itself to alert many drivers to the occurrence of brake 
    The wording required by FMVSS 208 is a standard and permanent 
notice of maintenance. It is a reminder to the vehicle owner when to 
have the occupant crash protection system serviced. It need not be seen 
and immediately understood, as with a warning indicator. The two 
requirements are obviously for different purposes and to be read at 
different times. Therefore, they need not have identical letter height 
    NHTSA has no objection to use of the ISO symbol, per se. However, 
the ISO symbol may only be used as an addition to the words or acronym 
required by FMVSS's 101 and 105 and not as a substitute. VW may, if it 
so chooses, meet the requirements of FMVSS 105 by including ``ABS'' 
inside the ISO symbol for brake failure, provided that the letters 
``ABS'' are \1/8\-inch in height. Alternatively, it may place the word 
``antilock'' or letters ``ABS'', in compliance with the requirements of 
FMVSS's 101 and 105, next to a \1/8\-inch ISO symbol brake failure 
indicator. Both options would meet the requirements of CMVSS 101 and 
the FMVSS's 101 and 105, obviating the need for VW to install different 
components in vehicles sold in the U.S. or Canada.
    Based on the foregoing, NHTSA concludes that there is no reasonable 
possibility that the requested amendment would be issued at the 
conclusion of a rulemaking proceeding and therefore denies VW's 

    Authority: 15 U.S.C. 1410a, delegation of authority at 49 CFR 
1.50 and 501.8.

    Issued on: May 2, 1994.
Barry Felrice,
Associate Administrator.for Rulemaking.
[FR Doc. 94-10862 Filed 5-4-94; 8:45 am]

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