Ms. Julie Laplante
Les Entreprises Michel Corbeil, Inc.
830, 12 ime Avenue
Saint-Lin-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 whether Corbeil should follow the school bus floor plan of a potential customer, and place a wheelchair securement position in front of an emergency exit window.
We believe that school buses should not have a wheelchair anchorage position placed in a position that blocks an emergency exit. However, the exit you ask about is not a mandatory school bus emergency exit.
In your letter, you state that a client wishes to purchase a new school bus with one emergency exit window on each side. A floor plan provided with your letter shows that the school bus is designed to have four wheelchair anchorage positions and two seat benches, both of which are 36 inches in length. You state that on the right hand side of the bus, there are only wheelchair positions (two wheelchair anchorage positions), so a wheelchair or wheelchair and passenger tiedowns must be placed in front of an emergency exit. You further state that neither FMVSS No. 217 nor State law requires the side emergency exit windows. You wish to know whether to agree with your clients request to place a wheelchair anchorage position in front of an emergency exit window, with the DO NOT BLOCK label.
The Emergency Exit Windows Are Beyond What Is Required
In response, I note that the seating capacity of the school bus at issue is fewer than 45 passengers because there are four wheelchair positions plus two benches. Thus, no additional emergency exit beyond the rear emergency exit door is required. (See S126.96.36.199(a) and (b).) Any emergency exit windows provided on the school bus at issue would therefore be considered voluntarily provided.
Our longstanding interpretation of FMVSS No. 217 with regard to labeling requirements for voluntarily provided emergency exits in school buses can be found in an interpretation letter of July 6, 1979 to Mr. Robert B. Kurre (copy enclosed). In that letter, NHTSA stated that exits installed in school buses beyond those required by S188.8.131.52 need not comply with the exit requirements applicable to school bus exits. Instead, NHTSA interpreted the standard as requiring all additional exits to meet the requirement in the standard applicable to non-school buses.
Thus, for the school bus you ask about, any side emergency exit window provided need not be marked DO NOT BLOCK. However, if side emergency exit windows are provided, they must be marked in accordance with S5.5.1 of FMVSS No. 217, which requires the designation Emergency Exit followed by concise operating instructions describing each motion necessary to unlatch and open the exit, located within 16 centimeters of the release mechanism. In addition, S5.5.1 states that when a release mechanism is not located within an occupant space of an adjacent seat, a label meeting the requirements of S5.5.2 that indicates the location of the nearest release mechanism shall be placed within the occupant space.
If you have any further questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Please note that our address has changed. Our new address is: Office of the Chief Counsel, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Mail Code: W41-227, Washington, DC 20590.
Anthony M. Cooke
 Pursuant to the definition of designated seating position at 49 CFR Section 571.3, each wheelchair position in the school bus is regarded as four designated seating positions. Therefore, the four wheelchair positions in the school bus can be regarded as totalling 16 designated seating positions. Since the two benches at issue are both 36 inches long, each would represent 2 designated seating positions, or a total of 20 passengers.