Search Interpretations


    Sgt. Sharron VanCampen
    Commander, School Bus Inspection Unit
    Michigan State Police, Motor Carrier Division
    4000 Collins Road
    Lansing, MI 48909

    Dear Sgt. VanCampen:

    This responds to your e-mail to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and telephone call to Deirdre Fujita of my staff, concerning the application of Federal motor vehicle safety standards[1] to the installation of "positioning belts" on large (over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating) school buses. We apologize for the delay in responding.

    You state that positioning belts are seat belts certified as meeting Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 209 that are sold for use on a school bus seat to transport children with special needs that require additional restraint to ensure that the children remain seated. According to your e-mail, some school bus operators are attaching the belts by looping them around school bus seat structures that were not manufactured for seat belt installation.

    You ask several questions about the positioning devices, which are answered below. I note that we have also received a related letter from Mr. Howard Dashney, Executive Director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT), asking about MAPTs members use of the positioning devices on school buses. Because your inquiries ask about the same situation, we will respond to you both simultaneously and will copy you both on our responses.

    Your questions are answered below.

    Question: "These devices are being marketed for pelvic restraint and as such, are they required to meet all of the requirements in FMVSS No. 209? If these devices are considered lap belts per FMVSS No. 209, are they required to meet the attachment hardware requirement at S5.2(c) and thus use a bolt to attach to the seat belt loading bar on a seat belt-ready school bus seat?"

    Answer: According to available information, the belts are in fact certified as meeting the requirements of FMVSS No. 209. Presumably, because they are certified as meeting that standard, the belts were sold with the attachment hardware required by FMVSS No. 209. It appears that your underlying question is whether the belts are required by FMVSS No. 209 to be attached in a specific way, including by use of a bolt, etc. As explained below, generally the answer is no.

    The installation of the belts on used vehicles is not directly regulated by an FMVSS. Safety standards that apply to installation of seat belts, FMVSS No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, and FMVSS No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, are "vehicle standards" applying only to new vehicles. The general rule is that installation of aftermarket equipment is not subject to the requirements set forth in vehicle standards.

    However, there is another statutory provision that might affect MAPT members installation of the belts. If a vehicle is modified after its first sale, 49 U.S.C. 30122 provides, in pertinent part:

      A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative 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.

    School buses are certified as meeting Federal school bus safety standards. Seats on a large school bus are certified to the "compartmentalization" requirements of FMVSS No. 222, School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection. The compartmentalization concept calls for sturdy yet yielding well-padded high-backed seats to protect passengers. With respect to Standard No. 222, the compartmentalized school bus seats are elements of design installed in compliance with this safety standard. The "make inoperative" prohibition requires any entity listed in 30122 to ensure that the school buses will continue to afford the occupant protection required by Standard No. 222, even with the positioning belts attached to them.

    Note, however, that the make inoperative prohibition does not apply to modifications vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, Federal law would not apply to a situation where MAPT members installed the belts in their own vehicles, even if the installation were to result in the vehicle no longer complying with the safety standards. Nonetheless, NHTSA urges owners to exercise care in modifying their vehicles so as not to degrade the safety provided by the original systems. Further, States have the authority to regulate the use of motor vehicles, including the manner in which school buses are modified and operated.

    Question: "If this is correct [and the answer to question number 2 is yes], is it appropriate for Michigan to require that seat belt anchorages in school buses over 10,000 gross vehicle weight meet the strength requirements found in FMVSS No. 210?"

    Answer: The answer to the preceding question is that seat belts are not required by our standards to be installed on used vehicles pursuant to the lap belt installation instructions accompanying the belts. However, because the FMVSSs do not specify requirements for seat belts for passengers on large school buses, each State has the authority to specify requirements for the installation of the belts. The belts act similarly to lap belts in a crash. NHTSA recommends that lap belts should be installed only on "seat belt ready" school bus seats (seats that are able to withstand the forces generated in a crash), and also in a manner that meets FMVSS No. 210.

    If you have further questions, please feel free to contact Ms. Fujita at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel


    [1] As explained by Ms. Fujita, we can only interpret our requirements and cannot interpret the requirements of other Federal agencies. As to compliance with Head Start or other Federal regulations, you should direct your question to the agency involved.