Randy Dukek, Coordinator of Transportation
    Department of Transportation
    Independent School District 196
    15180 Canada Avenue
    Rosemount, MN 55068-1758


    Dear Mr. Dukek:

    This responds to your November 20, 2003, letter and subsequent telephone conversation with Ms. Dorothy Nakama of my staff about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217, Bus emergency exits and window retention and release. You ask whether a school bus that provides more emergency exits than those required by FMVSS No. 217 can be modified to provide just the exits required by the Federal standard. Our answer is such modification is not prohibited by our requirements.

    You state a concern about buses that have removable seating to accommodate wheel chairs. When placed in certain positions, a wheelchair may block a window exit. To avoid blocking a window exit in school buses that have more window emergency exits than are required by FMVSS No. 217, you wish to know whether your school district can replace the optional extra emergency exit windows with non-emergency exit windows and remove all "exit" markings. [1]

    The relevant National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statutory provision is 49 U.S.C. Section 30122, "Making safety devices and elements inoperative," which states in part:

    (b) Prohibition. A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business [2] 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 .

    Section 30122 prohibits a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business from removing or making inoperative a window emergency exit that was installed to assure compliance with FMVSS No. 217. Because the emergency exits you want to remove were not installed to enable the vehicles to meet FMVSS No. 217, an entity listed in Section 30122 is not prohibited from removing them, provided that the school buses continue to meet FMVSS No. 217 after the modification.

    You informed Ms. Nakama that the school district itself might be modifying its own vehicles. The make inoperative provision does not apply to vehicle owners modifying their own vehicles. However, we encourage your school district to ensure that after any changes, the school buses continue to meet all school bus FMVSSs.

    We recommend that you check with State officials as to whether there are any Minnesota state requirements applying to the modification of the school buses. For further information, we suggest you contact Minnesotas State Director of Pupil Transportation:

    Captain Ken Urquhart
    Minnesota State Director of Pupil Transportation
    Department of Public Safety
    1110 Centere Pointe Curve, Suite 410
    Mondota Heights, MN 55120
    Telephone: (651) 405-6180.

    I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.

    Sincerely,

    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel

    ref:217
    d.1/22/04



    [1] On April 19, 2002 (67 FR 19343, DOT Docket No. NHTSA-99-5157), NHTSA published a final rule amending FMVSS No. 217 that, among other matters, specifies a "DO NOT BLOCK" label to be placed directly above or beneath each emergency door or emergency exit (including windows). The final rule is slated to take effect on April 21, 2004. The agency is considering three petitions for reconsideration of this final rule.

    [2] Defined at 49 U.S.C. Section 30122(a) as "a person holding itself out to the public to repair for compensation a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment."