Mr. James W. Freiburger
Thomas Built Buses
PO Box 2450 (27261)
1408 Courtesy Road
High Point, NC 27260
Dear Mr. Freiburger:
This responds to your letter and phone conversation with Rebecca MacPherson of my staff, in which you asked if a multipurpose passenger vehicle (MPV) designed to meet Federal school bus standards would be exempted from the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 206, Door locks and retention components. As explained below, an MPV is subject to all the relevant standards for an MPV, including FMVSS No. 206. However, in the limited circumstance where an MPV meets all of the Federal crashworthiness requirements for a school bus, we have decided we will not enforce the back door requirements of FMVSS No. 206.
In your letter you stated that some of your customers have requested "nine-passenger school bus[es] without traffic control devices." You further stated that these vehicles:
would meet all federal requirements for school buses with the exception of the requirements for flashing lights and stop arms and would also meet FMVSS [No.] 208[, Occupant crash protection,] requirements for MPV. The MPV would be equipped with a rear emergency door that meets the school bus requirements of FMVSS No. 217 [, Bus emergency exits and window retention and release].
You expressed concern that the lock and latch position standards required under FMVSS No. 206, but not under FMVSS No. 217 could decrease the safe operation of the back emergency door in emergency situations.
The application of a specific FMVSS is based, in part, on how a vehicle is classified for the purpose of the safety standards. Under 49 CFR 571.3, Definitions, an "MPV" is a motor vehicle with motive power designed to carry 10 persons or less which is constructed either on a truck chassis or with special features for occasional off-road operation. Conversely, a "bus" is any vehicle that has a capacity of 11 persons or more. A "school bus" is a "bus" that is sold to transport children to or from school or school-related events. Because the vehicle you described would be designed to carry 10 persons (9 passengers plus the driver) it would be an MPV for purposes of the FMVSSs and not a school bus, even though it would be designed to meet the Federal school bus safety standards (with the exception of the flashing lights and stop arm requirements). As such, the vehicle would be required to meet the back door lock and latch requirements of FMVSS No. 206.
The rear door on the vehicle you described would not meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 206. The requirements of FMVSS No. 206 are designed to reduce the possibility of occupant ejection from a vehicle resulting from a door opening while the vehicle is in motion or involved in a collision. (50 Federal Register 12029; March 27, 1985.) To this end, S4.4.1 of FMVSS No. 206 requires hinged back doors on vehicles covered by the standard to be equipped with a primary latch and striker assembly, and S4.4.2 requires each back door to have a locking mechanism. The back door on the vehicle you described, meeting FMVSS No. 217, would not comply with FMVSS No. 206 because it would lack a striker. However, because it meets the FMVSS No. 217 requirements, we find that it would provide equivalent protection for occupant protection.
Your letter compared a rear emergency door that meets the requirements of FMVSS No. 217 to a door with a wheel chair lift, which is excluded from FMVSS No. 206.  A door equipped with a wheelchair lift that is linked to an alarm system to notify the driver if the door is open, is excluded from FMVSS No. 206 because, when closed, the lift acts as a barrier to the door opening in the event of a collision. An emergency door of the type you described offers no such protection.
In your phone conversation with Ms. MacPherson, you stated that your customers requested removal of the 10th passenger seat so that drivers of these vehicles would not be required to obtain a commercial drivers license (CDL) as required under certain State laws. While we encourage your clients to use drivers who have a CDL, we realize that your customers may not always be able to employ such drivers to transport the children in their care. However, these drivers must be properly trained to drive these vehicles. 
The lack of employees with a CDL, and the resultant limitation on the facility's ability to use a school bus, may result in children being transported in MPVs that, while appropriately certified, do not meet the more stringent Federal school bus requirements. We wish to emphasize that school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country, and that we strongly recommend facilities that care for children use vehicles that are certified as meeting all of the Federal crashworthiness standards for school buses when transporting the children in their care. Therefore, in the specific instance where an MPV meets all of the Federal crashworthiness requirements for school buses, we will not enforce the back door requirements of FMVSS No. 206.
I hope you find this information of use. If you have any additional questions, please contact Chris Calamita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
 We have determined that a bus door that has two separate leaves that operate together (through a linkage) by means of the same hand-operated control, and with each leaf pivoting outward towards a boarding passenger to form an opening, comes within the meaning of "folding door" for purposes of Standard No. 206, and is therefore excluded from that standard.See, letter to Mr. Bryce Pfister; November 1, 2002.