Search Interpretations


Ms. Julie Laplante

Les Entreprises Michel Corbeil, Inc.

830, 12 ime Avenue

Laurentides (Qubec) J5M 2V9


Dear Ms. Laplante:

This responds to your letter asking about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217, Bus emergency exits and window retention and release. You ask for guidance on affixing 1 inch retroreflective tape on the outside perimeter of the rear emergency exit door on your single rear wheel model school bus. You provided photographs showing that the top half of the rear emergency exit door is flanked by two windows, one each to the right and to the left. The windows are placed close to the doors such that there is not enough room for the 1 inch retroreflective tape outlining the rear emergency exit door to lie flat. Under these circumstances, you wish to know how to place the tape so that the bus meets requirements for identifying school bus emergency exits at S5.5.3(c) of FMVSS No. 217.

S5.5.3(c) of Standard No. 217 states:

(c) Each opening for a required emergency exit shall be outlined around its outside perimeter with a retroreflective tape with a minimum width of 2.5 centimeters [one inch] and either red, white or yellow in color, that when tested under the conditions specified in S6.1 of Standard No. 131 (49 CFR 571.131), meets the criteria specified in Table 1 of that section.

The purposes of the retroreflective tape requirement are to identify the location of emergency exits to rescuers, and to increase on-the-road visibility of the bus.

As discussed below, based on our understanding of your letter and the photographs you enclosed, there are ways to apply the 1 inch-width tape to meet FMVSS No. 217. Please note, however, that you based your inquiry on the use of 1 inch tape, stating without further explanation that you are using this width tape to standardise our production. The standard requires tape of a minimum width of 2.5 centimeters (cm) (1 inch). A manufacturer cannot claim it is impracticable to meet the standard using a tape of a width greater than 2.5 cm (1 inch) if it would be practicable to mark the perimeter using 2.5 cm (1-inch) tape.

Your Question. Your photographs show that the windows on each side are so close to the rear emergency exit door that the 1 inches of tape that you use cannot be placed around the outside of the door without overlapping the windows.[1] You state that you cannot move each window one inch away from the door because there is no room to move the windows.

In the photographs on the page labeled #1, you show that the space around the rear emergency exit door is not wide enough to accommodate the tape. You indicate that if you were to put the tape around the outside perimeter of the door, the tape would overlap the frame of the adjacent windows, i.e., only inch of the tape would be on a flat surface on the outside perimeter of the door, and 1 inch of the tapes width would be in a fold in the curved surface of the fixed rear upper windows, resulting in what you describe as bad finishing, tear and dont [sic] stay in place.

Given the close proximity of the rear emergency exit door and the two rear windows to the right and left, you ask about three approaches for outlining the rear emergency exit door. The first approach involves not applying the tape to the perimeter of the door by the rear windows, while another approach involves cutting the tape in that area to a width of -inch. The last approach involves placing the tape on the door itself.

The first two suggestions would not meet the standard. Your first suggestion is to interrupt the portion of the tape (18 inches on each side [of the door]), that is, to not have any retroreflective tape for 18 inches on each side of the door. This approach would not enable the bus to meet the requirement of S5.5.3(c) that the emergency exit opening be outlined around its outside perimeter since a large portion of the perimeter would not be outlined.

Your other suggestion is to cut off the portion of the tape that sticks on the curved surface of the fixed upper windows. (It would leave a width of of an inch for those two 18 inches portion of tape.) This approach would not meet S5.5.3(c) because the two 18-inch portions of the tape would not meet the minimum width requirement of 2.5 centimeters [one inch].

Your last suggestion (slightly revised) would meet the standard. Your last suggestion is to affix the tape of the whole two side perimeters on the door directly. We agree that you may apply the tape to the door itself, as near as possible to the outside perimeter of the door. This is in accordance with an interpretation letter of June 8, 1994 to Van-Con Inc., in which we addressed a situation where there was no room available for placement of retroreflective tape outside of the doors bottom edge. In the Van-Con instance, NHTSA permitted a portion of the retroreflective tape to be on the door itself, stating:

Since not outlining an entire side of an exit might affect a rescuers ability to locate the exit and would reduce the conspicuity of the exit, the bottom side of the door must be marked with the retroreflective tape. In this situation, NHTSA interprets S5.5.3(c) as allowing placement of the retroreflective tape on the door itself, as near as possible to the lower edge of the door.

Accordingly, you may affix the tape for the vertical sides of the exit directly on the door.[2] However, we do not agree that you need not have tape at the door handle, since it appears from photograph #3 that there is sufficient space on the inside perimeter of the door to accommodate a 1 tape width.

NHTSA interprets S5.5.3(c) to allow interruptions in the tape necessary to avoid and/or accommodate curved surfaces and functional components, such as rivets, rubrails, hinges and handles, provided, however, that the following requisites are met. In the November 2, 1992, final rule, NHTSA indicated that the purpose of the retroreflective tape would be to identify the location of emergency exits to rescuers and increase the on-the-road conspicuity of the bus. Accordingly, the retroreflective tape may have interruptions if they satisfy both of these purposes. Occasional breaks in the tape for the hinges shown would not appear to negatively affect a rescuers ability to locate the exits, or reduce the conspicuity of the bus.

If you have any further questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.


Anthony M. Cooke

Chief Counsel



[1] We assume there is not sufficient space even to use 2.5 cm (1 inch) tape.

[2] See also July 7, 1993 to Blue Bird Body Company. (The tape should be applied as near as possible to the exit perimeter.)