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NHTSA Letter of Interpretation: FMVSS Interpretation

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

NHTSA Letter of Interpretation: FMVSS Interpretation

From: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
To: Department of California Highway Patrol
December 27, 1967


DATE: 12/27/67

FROM: AUTHOR UNAVAILABLE; Howard A. Heffron; NHTSA

TO: Department of California Highway Patrol

TITLE: FMVSS INTERPRETATION

TEXT: The Federal Highway Administrator has asked me to reply to your letter of November 24, 1967, in which you asked whether tow cars (as defined in the California Vehicle Code), "emergency vehicles, and other specially designed vehicles" come within the coverage of Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108.

Standard No. 108 prescribes requirements for lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment. It applies, by its terms, to "trucks . . . that are 80 or more inches overall." As you point out, the term "truck" is broadly defined in Subpart A of the Standards and includes any "motor vehicle with motive power . . . designed primarily for transportation of property or special purpose equipment." There is nothing in the definition, nor is there any other reason, to exclude vehicles designed to tow or otherwise assist other disabled vehicles from the coverage of the Standard. Moreover, paragraph S3.4.4.2 of Standard No. 108 provides that "stoplamps on a towing vehicle need not be actuated when service brakes are applied to the towed vehicle or vehicles only." The adoption of specific requirements pertaining to vehicles being towed would indicate that no exclusion for tow cars or tow trucks was intended.

We conclude, therefore, that tow trucks and tow cars that are 80 or more inches wide overall must comply with the provisions of Standard No. 108. That Standard applies to vehicles manufactured on or after January 1, 1968. State standards, if any, would continue to apply to tow cars or trucks manufactured prior to that date. I also wish to point out that, by a formal interpretation (published at 32 F.S. 8803), the term "overall width" in Standard No. 108 has been deamed to refer to "the nominal design dimension of the widest part of the vehicle, exclusive of signal lamps, market lamps, outside rearview mirrors, flexible fender extensions, and mud flaps. . . ." We are presently considering an amendment which would extend Standard No. 108 to trucks having a width of less than 80 inches, but the Standard in its prevent form is limited to the larger trucks.

In your letter, you refer to "emergency vehicles" and "special purpose vehicles" and ask whether such vehicles are covered by Standard No. 108. Since you did not further describe the vehicles you had in mind, we cannot tell whether they are of a type which must meet the requirements of the Standard. Since you mention the possibility that some of these vehicles may be deemed "truck tractors," we wish to call your attention to the fact that Standard No. 108, by its terms, does not apply to truck tractors.

If we can be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to call upon us.

Sincerely,

ATTACH.

DEPARTMENT OF CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL

November 24, 1967

Lowell K. Bridwell -- Federal Highway Administrator, U.S. Department of Transportation

Dear Mr. Bridwell:

A question has arisen concerning the application of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 issued January 31, 1967, to tow cars.

A "tow car" is defined in the California Vehicle Code as "a motor vehicle which has been altered or designed and equipped for and exclusively used in the business of towing vehicles by means of a crane, hoist, tow bar, tow line, or dolly or is otherwise exclusively used to render assistance to other vehicles."

Although the definitions for "truck" and "truck tractor" included in Subpart A of Initial Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are broad, there appears to be a number of special purpose vehicles such as tow cars, emergency vehicles, and other specially designed vehicles which may not be included.

Will you please clarify for us the definition of "truck" and "truck tractor" with relation to the above special purpose vehicles.

Very truly yours,

H. W. SULLIVAN -- Commissioner

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