The Honorable Chris Chocola
    U.S. House of Representatives
    444 Mall Road
    Logansport, IN 46947


    Dear Representative Chocola:

    Thank you for your letter of August 27, 2003, requesting information on behalf of your constituent, Reverend Don Harris of the Door of Hope Community Church in Kokomo. Reverend Harris is concerned about the 15-passenger vans used by his church and wishes to know if there is a Federal law "prohibiting use of 15-passenger vans for transporting students (K-12) to and from school." Reverend Harris also asks for information about a warning issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the risks of rollover crashes associated with 15-passenger vans.

    As explained below, 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. Regulations applying to the use of 15-passenger vans and other vehicles are set by the States.


    Transporting Students With Vans

    By way of background, NHTSA is authorized to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) 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 school-related events. By regulation, the capacity threshold for school buses corresponds to that of buses -- vehicles designed for carrying more than ten (10) persons.

    The Door of Hope Community Church operates a child care center for pre-kindergarten and school age children and provides transportation to and from school. While child care centers in and of themselves are not "schools," a facility providing transportation to or from school is providing the transportation covered by our statute. As such, a dealer selling a new bus to the facility for transporting students to or from school is obligated to sell a "school bus." Bus sales to child care centers have been addressed in the enclosed May 9, 2001, interpretation letter to Mr. Rod Nash explaining dealers responsibilities in selling new buses to child care centers for use in transporting children to or from schools.

    Because the FMVSSs apply only to manufacturers and sellers of new motor vehicles, we do not regulate how a child care center must transport its children. However, each State has the authority to set its own regulations regarding the use of motor vehicles, including 15-passenger vans. For this reason, Indiana law determines which vehicles can be used to transport children to or from child care centers.


    15-Passenger Van Rollover Risk

    The way some 15-passenger vans may be driven may subject occupants to an increased risk of rollover crashes. On April 15, 2002, NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., reissued a cautionary warning to 15-passenger van users because of an increased rollover risk under certain conditions. NHTSA research has shown that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to more than ten. In fact, 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate in single-vehicle crashes that is nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded.

    Dr. Runge advised 15-passenger van users to be aware of the following safety precautions in order to significantly reduce the rollover risk:

    • It is important that 15-passenger vans be operated by trained, experienced drivers.
    • All occupants must wear seat belts at all times. Eighty percent of those who died in 15-passenger van rollovers nationwide in the year 2000 were not buckled up. Wearing seat belts dramatically increases the chances of survival during a rollover crash. In fatal, single-vehicle rollovers involving 15-passenger vans over the past decade, 92 percent of belted occupants survived.

    I am enclosing copies of the consumer advisory, a NHTSA study on "The Rollover Propensity of Fifteen-Passenger Vans," and a flyer, "Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans." For more information about the safety features of a school bus, I am enclosing NHTSAs publication, "School Bus Safety: Safe Passage for Americas Children."


    The Multifunction School Activity Bus

    Your constituent might be interested to know that NHTSA recently established a new school bus subcategory, the "multifunction school activity bus" (July 31, 2003; 68 FR 44892). This vehicle is a bus that meets all school bus FMVSSs, except those for school bus flashing lights and stop arms. As a matter of Federal law, child care facilities may now be sold multifunction school activity buses as an alternative to school buses with flashing lights and stop arms, subject to State law. A copy of the July 31, 2003, document is enclosed for your information.

    I hope this information is helpful. If you or Reverend Harris have any further questions about 15-passenger van safety or about NHTSAs programs, please feel free to contact me at this address or at (202) 366-2992.

    Sincerely,

    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel

    Enclosures
    ref:571.3
    d.10/1/03