by Williams B. Britt
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were 1,759,961 large truck and/or bus inspections in 2020.1 These inspections were conducted predominately at the state level and were for a multitude of reasons, i.e. related such as inoperable tail lights. In fact, out of the 1,759,961 vehicle inspections, four out of the top twenty vehicle violations were lighting violations.2 Even more glaring is that lighting violations accounted for three of the top ten.
The most commonly cited violation was “Inoperable Required Lamp” with 311,791 reported violations. “Inoperable Turn Signal” and “No or defective lighting device or reflective material as required” were sixth and seventh with 88,361 and 80,162 violations respectively.3 The remaining lightning violation in the top twenty was “Inoperable Head Lamps” (44,471).4
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “All lamps required by [49 CFR 393 Subpart B] shall be capable of being operated at all time.” 49 CFR § 393.9. The lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment required include: headlamps, turn signals, identification lamps, tail lamps, stop lamps, clearance lamps, reflex reflectors, license plate lamps, side marker lamps, vehicle hazard warning signal flasher lamps, backup lamp, and parking lamps. See 49 CFR § 393.11.
The Motor Carrier Safety Planner summarizes the requirements within 49 CFR § 393 Subpart B as follows:
“Lighting device and reflector requirements apply to most commercial vehicles on the road today, but motor vehicles manufactured on or before December 25, 1968, must, at a minimum, meet requirements that were in effect on the date of the vehicle’s manufacture.
Stop lamps must activate when brakes are applied. Lamps and reflectors must be visible, with exceptions. Certain trailers manufactured on or after December 1, 1993, must also have retroreflective sheeting or additional reflex reflectors to make them more visible. Trailers manufactured before December 1, 1993, must be retrofitted with retroreflective sheeting or additional reflectors as stated in 49 CFR 393.13.
Other than head lamps and certain temporary lamps, all lamps must be securely mounted on a permanent part of the vehicle. Temporary lamps on motor vehicles being transported in driveaway–towaway operations, and temporary electric lamps on loads that are outside the footprint of the vehicle—called projecting loads—must be securely attached.5
A common solution to help prevent these types of citations is to conduct routine maintenance and inspections of your commercial motor vehicles. If there are any inoperable lights, you should promptly replace the lights prior to placing the vehicle back into service. Conducting these simple inspections will have beneficial effects. Specifically, it will reduce the number of citations received, but will also lead to fewer motor vehicle accidents.
The purpose of this standard is to reduce traffic accidents and deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents, by providing adequate illumination of the roadway, and by enhancing the conspicuity of motor vehicles on the public roads so that their presence is perceived and their signals understood, both in daylight and in darkness or other conditions of reduced visibility.
49 CFR § 571.108 – Standard No. 108; Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment. S2 Purpose.
Best practice is to also record and document each inspection and repair. The result of documenting the inspections and promptly repairing will be extremely beneficial if an accident occurs that is attributable to improper lighting. Having the proper documentation helps to prohibit an attorney from arguing the common misconception that your company cares more about its bottom line than it does the safety of others.
1 2021 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/2022-01/FMCSA%20Pocket%20Guide%202021.pdf
5 The Motor Carrier Safety Planner, 5.1.8 Lighting Devises and Reflectors (393 Subpart B), https://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/safetyplanner/MyFiles/SubSections.aspx?ch=22&sec=64&sub=137