Teresa Stillwell, Public Relations Director
P. O. Box 730
Marsing, ID 83639
Dear Ms. Stillwell:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of how Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217, Bus emergency exits and window retention and release, applies to used school buses that your company wishes to carry forest fire-fighters and fire-fighting equipment.
In your letter, you write that the used school "buses in our fleet range from 1980 to 1992" as the dates of manufacture. In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you stated the used school buses range from 45 to 63 in passenger capacity, and thus are over 4,536 kg (10,000 pounds) in gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). You will modify the buses to carry 22 passengers (including the driver).
The Federal motor vehicle safety standards do not apply to used motor vehicles. That is, persons selling a used vehicle are not required to sell vehicles that meet the FMVSSs. Thus, there is no NHTSA requirement that the modified buses meet FMVSS No. 217.
There is a limit in Federal law on the modifications that certain commercial businesses may make to vehicles for compensation. This "make inoperative" provision is discussed below.
Making Safety Devices and Elements Inoperative
Section 30122(b) of 49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq. states, in relevant part:
Prohibition. A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard.
In general, this section prohibits the entities listed in 30122 from removing, disabling or otherwise "making inoperative" any of the safety systems or devices installed on the vehicle to comply with a safety standard. However, with regard to modifications that change a vehicle from one vehicle type to another (e.g., from school bus to bus  ), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has interpreted the provision to hold that the modifications do not violate the "make inoperative" prohibition as long as the converted vehicle complies with the safety standards that would have applied if the vehicle had been originally manufactured as the new type. Applied to the situation you present, and assuming that ACF is modifying the buses for compensation, this means that ACF would have to ensure that the buses meet the "bus" emergency exit requirements to preclude a violation of 30122.
The emergency exit requirements that apply to "buses" are explained in an enclosure to this letter. As you requested, the enclosure also explains the requirements for "school buses."
The make inoperative provision does not apply to owners modifying their own vehicles. Thus, if ACF is modifying used school buses for its own use, there is no NHTSA requirement not to make inoperative the safety systems or devices installed in the vehicle. However, NHTSA urges owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles.
Storing Fire-Fighting Equipment
You told Ms. Nakama that fire-fighting equipment (such as axes, shovels, and chain saws) would weigh between 2,300 to 3,000 pounds and would be secured in the bus by storage in cages. Separate cages can be designed for opposite sides of the bus, leaving a clear aisle to the rear emergency exit door. You stated that it was also proposed to put one large storage cage in such a way as to block the rear emergency exit door. In your letter, you ask whether, if the rear exit is blocked, installing a roof exit in front of the cage door fulfills the required number of exits. You asked Ms. Nakama whether Federal law permits blockage of the emergency exit door.
We assume for this answer that you are regulated by the "make inoperative" provision of 30122. Because your company would change the vehicle type (i.e., from school bus to bus), and there is no requirement for rear emergency exit doors for buses, NHTSA law would not prohibit the blockage of the rear emergency exit door with a permanent structure such as the cage, as long as a roof emergency exit is provided. If you are modifying your own vehicles and are thus not regulated by the make inoperative provision, you are not required by NHTSA to install an exit. If an exit is not provided, we strongly recommend that the emergency exit label be removed from the rear door.
Your final question to Ms. Nakama was whether it would be permissible to transport gasoline on the buses for fueling forest fire-fighting equipment such as chain saws. The Research and Special Projects Administration (RSPA) of the Department of Transportation has regulations that may apply to transport of gasoline. You can contact RSPAs Office of Hazardous Materials Standards toll free at 1-800-467-4922 for information about RSPA regulations. We also suggest that you contact your State motor vehicle administration for information about any State regulations in this area.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
 By NHTSAs definition, a bus is "a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons." (See 49 CFR 571.3, "Definitions.")