Search Interpretations


    Mr. Rick Brownlee
    Charlotte Bus and RV Sales
    P.O. Box 218
    Simpsonville, SC 29681

    Dear Mr. Brownlee:

    This responds to your e-mail message to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), requesting information about sales of small buses to child care centers for school pick-up. You explained to Dorothy Nakama of my staff that your company manufactures new vehicles that meet the school bus crashworthiness safety standards, but do not have school bus flashing lights or stop arms. You wish to know whether child care centers may purchase and use these vehicles.

    By way of background, keep in mind that Federal law restricts the types of new buses that may be sold to transport children to or from school or school-related events, but does not restrict the use of vehicles. State laws regulate the use of vehicles, including how school age children are to be transported. Presently, NHTSAs requirements do not permit the sale of vehicles such as yours to the centers for the purpose of picking up and dropping off students at schools. However, the adoption of proposed changes to those requirements would permit the sale of the vehicles for that purpose.

    Present Requirements

    NHTSA is authorized to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) applicable to new motor vehicles. Our statute at 49 U.S.C. 30112(a) requires any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all applicable motor vehicle safety standards. Accordingly, persons selling or leasing a new "school bus" must sell or lease a vehicle that meets the safety standards applicable to school buses. Our statute at 49 U.S.C. 30125 defines a "school bus" as any passenger motor vehicle that is designed for carrying a driver and more than 10 passengers and which, NHTSA decides, is likely to be "used significantly" to transport "preprimary, primary, and secondary" students to or from school or related events. By regulation, the capacity threshold for school buses corresponds to that of buses -- vehicles designed for carrying more than ten (10) persons.

    Your question regarding sales of new buses to child care centers has been addressed for the most part in the enclosed interpretation letter of May 9, 2001, to Collins Bus Corporation. In the Collins letter, we explain dealers' responsibilities in selling new buses to child care centers that will be using the vehicles to transport children to or from schools. (All the enclosures mentioned in the letter are provided.) NHTSAs longstanding position has been that child care centers in and of themselves are not Aschools@ within the meaning of our statute because of their primarily custodial, rather than educational, emphasis. However, when a child care center is providing transportation to or from school or school-related events, then the transportation constitutes the described action--transporting students to or from school--contemplated by the statute. As such, a dealer selling a new bus to a child care center for transporting students to or from school is obligated to sell a new "school bus."

    Proposed Change ("Multifunction School Activity Bus")

    You state that the child care centers "may be picking up and dropping off at schools." Because your vehicles do not have the flashing lights and stop arms, at present they could not be certified as meeting all school bus FMVSSs and thus cannot be sold to the centers to transport students to or from school. However, the agency is considering adding a new vehicle classification that would allow the sale of such a vehicle for those purposes.

    On November 5, 2002 (67 FR 67373), NHTSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish a new school bus subcategory, the "Multifunction School Activity Bus" (MFSAB).An MFSAB would be a school bus with a gross vehicle weight rating of 6,804 kilograms (15,000 pounds) or less that meets all school bus FMVSSs, except for S5.1.4 of Standard No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, and Standard No. 131, School Bus Pedestrian Safety Devices. That is, the vehicle would be constructed as a school bus except for school bus flashing lamps and stop arms. The MFSABs would have a label stating that they are not to be used to pick school children up from or drop them off at home. If NHTSA issues a final rule establishing the MFSAB subcategory, you will be permitted to sell MFSABs to child care centers.

    "Allowable Alternate Vehicles" (AAV)

    You also asked: "Will the [allowable alternate vehicles] AAVs be acceptable for pupil transportation for day care centers who may be picking up and dropping off at schools, but who would have no need for the emergency lights and stop arm?" Your question relates to a final rule of January 18, 2001, in which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start Bureau defined "allowable alternate vehicle" (AAV) as "a vehicle designed for carrying eleven or more people, including the driver, that meets all the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards applicable to school buses, except 49 CFR 571.108 and 571.131." (See 45 CFR 1310.3.)

    NHTSAs notice proposing the MFSAB is intended to create a vehicle that would meet the Head Start Programs definition of "allowable alternate vehicle."However, until NHTSA issues a final rule establishing the MFSAB, you may not sell an AAV to a child care center, if you know the center will "significantly" use the bus to transport children "to and from school or related events."

    Sales of "Commercial Buses" that Meet Standard No. 220

    You also ask whether a "typical 'commercial bus' that passes FMVSS 220 for school bus rollover and meets all safety standards for a commercial bus [would] be acceptable."The answer is no. The "commercial bus" you describe would not meet all of NHTSAs school bus crashworthiness safety standards. Accordingly, the vehicle would not be considered an MFSAB under the November 2002 proposal.

    I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions about NHTSA's school bus safety programs, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama at this address or at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel