Mr. Matthew Sausaman
    Director of Engineering
    Turtle Top
    67819 State Road 15
    New Paris, IN 46553

    Dear Mr. Sausaman:

    This responds to your letter asking about the applicability of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 221, School Bus Body Joint Strength (49 CFR 571.221), to "multifunction school activity buses" (MFSAB) that your company plans to manufacture. You currently manufacture buses for commercial and transit applications. You state that "the construction of our vehicle includes no seams in the passenger area; hence we are having trouble determining test applicability."

    By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not approve new motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Each manufacturer is responsible for determining its vehicles compliance with all applicable FMVSSs and to certify that the vehicles meet all applicable FMVSSs.

    On July 31, 2003, NHTSA published its final rule creating the MFSAB as a school bus category (68 FEDREG 44892, copy enclosed). The final rule takes effect on September 2, 2003, but manufacturers have the option of complying with the new rule as of July 31, 2003. MFSABs are school buses. Since FMVSS No. 221 applies to school buses, the standard applies to MFSABs.

    In past interpretation letters, NHTSA has stated that the terms that establish the applicability of the requirements of FMVSS No. 221 to a particular section of a school bus body are defined in S5, Requirements (March 17, 1977, letter to Mr. Edmund C. Burnett). That section states:

    S5.1 Except as provided in S5.2, each body panel joint, including small, curved, and complex joints, when tested in accordance with the procedure of S6, shall hold the body panel to the member to which it is joined when subjected to a force of 60 percent of the tensile strength of the weakest joined body panel determined pursuant to S6.2.

    The terms "body panel" and "body panel joint" are defined at S4 of FMVSS No. 221. "Body panel" means a body component used on the exterior or interior surface to enclose the bus occupant space. "Body panel joint" means the area of contact or close proximity between the edges of a body panel and another body component, including but not limited to floor panels, and body panels made of composite materials such as plastic or plywood.

    S4 and S5.1 together specify that if the edge of a surface body component (body panel) that encloses occupant space comes into contact with or is in close proximity to any other body panel or body component, the requirements of S5.1 apply, unless the body panel joint is excluded in S5.2.

    You write that your vehicle "includes no seams in the passenger area." Very little information about the construction of the bus was provided. If your bus consisted of a single, seamless, body component and had no body panel joint whatsoever, there would be no body panel joint subject to FMVSS No. 221. However, this appears unlikely, since the specifications you enclosed of your component body construction refers to the welding of the roof to the sidewall frames, the rear body panel to the sidewall and floor frame, and the bonding of the exterior rear panel to the rear frame. That is to say, it appears that your vehicle could have an area of contact or close proximity between the edges of a body panel and another body component. If you identify a particular joint to us, we might be able to interpret whether the standard applies.

    Please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992 if you have any questions.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel