FMCSA Grants Freight Hauler Exemption for Intellistop System

Device Flashes Brake Lights as Safety Alert
Intellistop brake light system
FMCSA says it "is deeply interested in the development and deployment of technologies that can reduce the frequency, severity and risk of rear-end crashes.” (Intellistop)

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Federal regulators have granted a five-year exemption to fuel hauler Gemini Motor Transport to operate a flashing brake light system manufactured by Intellistop Inc. that regulators in October 2022 said did not meet federal safety standards for a manufacturer’s industrywide exemption.

The allowable exemption to Gemini comes after a request by Intellistop for review was denied in July by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The decision by the three-judge appellate panel put an end a two-year administrative battle between the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Michelle Hanby of Arkansas, the owner of Intellistop, which has offered the pulsating brake technology that has been touted by the company as a system that could save lives by preventing rear-end accidents.

But the appeals court did not agree with Intellistop’s allegations that the agency acted arbitrarily.

Michelle Hanby


“They have made it unnecessarily difficult, but at least it’s a start,” Hanby said in response to the Gemini announcement. “With FMCSA granting this initial Intellistop exemption on a carrier-by-carrier basis, apparently FMCSA is prepared to handle thousands of carrier exemption requests.”

FMCSA said that when the brakes are applied, the Intellistop module is designed to pulse the rear clearance, identification and brake lamps from a lower-level lighting intensity to a higher-level lighting intensity. The system flashes four times in two seconds and then maintains the original equipment manufacturer’s level of illumination for those lamps until the brakes are released and reapplied. Intellistop asserts that its module is designed to ensure that if the unit ever fails, the clearance, identification and brake lamps will default to normal function and illumination.

“The agency has determined that granting the exemption to Gemini, an individual, easily identifiable motor carrier operating a finite number of commercial motor vehicles, would likely achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or greater than, the level of safety achieved by the regulation,” FMCSA said in a May 10 approval announcement for Gemini.

FMCSA said that rear-end crashes generally account for approximately 30% of all accidents.

“They often result from a failure to respond (or delays in responding) to a stopped or decelerating lead vehicle,” the agency said. “Data on crashes that occurred between 2010 and 2016 show that large trucks are consistently three times more likely than other vehicles to be struck in the rear in two-vehicle fatal crashes.”

FMCSA logo

FMCSA added that it “is deeply interested in the development and deployment of technologies that can reduce the frequency, severity and risk of rear-end crashes.”

The agency said 25 or 26 commenters supported the Gemini petition request.

In March 1, 2023, comments, American Trucking Associations said it supports the application by Gemini and believes that granting the exemption “can provide valuable real-world experience and data for a safety technology with the potential to reduce crashes.”

“It also can inform future design considerations, best practices and regulatory actions related to enhanced rear signaling technologies,” ATA said. “While FMCSA must consider the potential for unintended consequences, ATA believes that controlled and monitored deployments through the exemption process is an appropriate method of investigating the safety implications and evaluating any unintended consequences.”


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Intellistop has maintained all along that “the only reason for its exemption request was to remove any lingering regulatory uncertainty created by a 1960s-era steady-burning rule requiring exterior vehicular lamps to remain ‘steady-burning.’ Because the administrative record clearly shows the [Intellistop] exemption would improve safety, the denial is unlawful,” Intellistop said.

Even before the appeal was filed, several motor carriers lined up in support of the system, pledging to install it on their trucks if the court overruled FMCSA. Some of those companies have said they have evaluated the system and found it to be effective.

Hanby has said FMCSA in the past has granted five-year exemption requests to Grote Industries to add a flashing system to tank truck carrier Groendyke Transport and the National Tank Truck Carriers Association to use red or amber pulsing brake lights.

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