Mr. Harold V. Turnquist
1780 West 7th Street
Saint Paul, MN 55116-2347
Dear Mr. Turnquist:
This responds to your letter requesting confirmation that there has been no change since 1998 in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSAs) position regarding use of 15-passenger vans by your districts Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program. In an April 29, 1998, letter to you, then Acting Chief Counsel John Womack stated that NHTSA does not consider the ECFE program to constitute a "school" as that term is used in our statute. Mr. Womack concluded that new buses leased to you for transporting ECFE Program participants were thus not required to be school buses under Federal law.
Assuming the ECFE program has not changed, we confirm that we still believe that the instruction in developing the participants parenting skills are distinct from the academic instruction associated with a "school", and that we thus do not consider the ECFE program to be a "school" for purposes of our regulations. Accordingly, if a dealer were to sell or lease a new 15-passenger van to the Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education Department for the exclusive use of the ECFE program, that dealer need not sell or lease a new school bus.
Nonetheless, there have been developments in the last few years regarding the use of 15-passenger vans, and we appreciate the opportunity to bring these to your attention.
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 June 1, 2004, 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 and a flyer, "Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans".
The Multifunction School Activity Bus
In 2003, NHTSA established a new school bus subcategory, the "multifunction school activity bus" (MFSAB). This vehicle is a bus that meets all Federal motor vehicle safety standards for school buses except those for school bus flashing lights and stop arms. MFSABs are sold for purposes that do not include transporting students to and from home or school bus stops. Federal law permits the sale of new MFSABs to child care facilities as an alternative to school buses with flashing lights and stop arms. A copy of a July 31, 2003, final rule that establishes the vehicle category is enclosed for your information.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us at 202-366-2992.