Mr. Ira Schaffer
State of New York
328 State Street
Schenectady, NY 12305
Dear Mr. Schaffer:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of whether a Type 2 seat belt for the drivers seating position in a school bus with a gross vehicle weight (GVWR) over 10,000 pounds, may be replaced with a Type 1 belt. You write that owner/operators of the school buses are making changes to their own vehicles. The answer is yes, the Type 2 seat belt may be replaced with a Type 1 seat belt.
Requirements for buses (including school buses) with GVWRs over 10,000 pounds are at S4.4.3, Buses manufactured on or after September 1, 1991, of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection. S18.104.22.168 provides that each bus with a GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds shall comply with the requirements of S22.214.171.124 or S126.96.36.199. Most manufacturers meet S188.8.131.52 by installing a seat belt at the drivers position, as provided in S184.108.40.206Second option -belt system- driver only. S220.127.116.11 states in part:
The vehicle shall, at the drivers designated seating position, have either a Type 1 or a Type 2 seat belt assembly that conforms to 571.209 of this part [FMVSS No. 209, Seat belt assemblies] and S7.2 of this Standard. A Type 1 belt assembly or the pelvic portion of a dual retractor Type 2 belt assembly installed at the drivers seating position shall include either an emergency locking retractor or an automatic locking retractor.
Thus, for a school bus with a GVWR over 10,000 pounds (manufactured on or after September 1, 1991), FMVSS No. 208 permits the drivers designated seating position to have either a Type 1 or Type 2 seat belt assembly.
As you are aware, after the first retail sale of a vehicle, 30122 of the Safety Act (49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq.) limits the modifications that can be made by certain businesses to vehicles. Manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses may not "knowingly make inoperative" any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or equipment in compliance with an applicable safety standard. Therefore, any modifications to the existing seat belt system made by an entity in the categories listed in 30122 must be made in such a way so that the vehicle continues to conform to existing standards. Since FMVSS No. 208 permits either a Type 1 or Type 2 seat belt assembly at the drivers designated seating position, an entity listed in 30122 may install a Type 1 seat belt assembly (in place of the Type 2 assembly). However, the modification must be made such that the Type 1 seat belt assembly meets the FMVSSs for seat belt strength, webbing, positioning, locking, retraction/stowage, latch mechanism, and other requirements.
It is possible the Type 1 replacement seat belts will not have retractors. As stated above, FMVSS No. 208 requires either an emergency locking retractor or an automatic locking retractor. Without retractors, it is likely the seat belts would also, not meet the latch mechanism requirement of S7.2 of FMVSS No. 208 which states: "The components of the latch mechanism shall be accessible to a seated occupant in both the stowed and operational positions".
Section 30122 does not apply to owners modifying their own vehicles. Thus, the operators may install the lap belts without regard to the "make inoperative" prohibition. However, we strongly recommend that modifications be made without degrading the safety of the vehicles.
Even though the safety standards allow Type 1 seat belts under the circumstances discussed above, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been requiring more seating positions to have Type 2 belts in lighter vehicles. In addition, the bus manufacturer determined that the Type 2 seat belt was appropriate for its bus. Therefore, it is not clear this modification is the best for safety.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.