Mr. Daryl Edds
Director of Operations
Mechanicsville Christian Center
8161 Shady Grove Road
Mechanicsville, VA 23111
Dear Mr. Edds:
Thank you for your letter requesting information bearing on your decision whether your church should buy a new van or a mini-bus. In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, Mr. David Coker of your church explained that a van was a 15-passenger van and that the mini-bus is a bus that meets this agencys school bus or multifunction school activity bus (MFSAB) standards. We understand that, among other uses, the vehicle would be used to transport children in your congregation, and that there is no school (other than Sunday school) associated with your church.
Some background information may be helpful. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Our statute at 49 U.S.C. 30112 requires any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all applicable FMVSSs. In the school bus context, the statute requires any person selling a new school bus (a vehicle that is designed to carry 11 or more persons and which is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary students to or from school or related events) to sell a vehicle that meets the FMVSSs applying to school buses. An MFSAB may be sold if the school transportation does not involve school bus route transportation (i.e., that do not involve transporting students between home and school). An MFSAB is a school bus that meets all the school bus FMVSSs except those requiring the installation of traffic control devices (flashing lights and stop arms).
From the information you present, it does not appear to us that you are required to be sold a school bus or an MFSAB, since your church will not be transporting children to or from school or related events. We note, however, that NHTSA believes that school buses (including MFSABs) are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country.
Conversely, we have had numerous safety campaigns to warn people of the risk of rollover in 15-passenger vans. There are some actions that consumers can take to mitigate this risk. Information can be found at www.safercar.gov and clicking on the van safety link. We
encourage purchasers to consider purchasing a school bus or MFSAB to transport school-age children. I am enclosing, for your information, copies of an April 6, 2000 letter to Mr. Ted Cashion and an October 1, 2003 letter to U.S. Representative Chris Chocola addressing transportation for children attending church schools. All enclosures referenced in each of these letters are also provided.
While NHTSA regulates the first sale of new vehicles, NHTSA does not regulate how the vehicles are to be used. Questions about what vehicles may be used to transport children attending church are addressed by State law, since the State has the authority to determine how the children must be transported to and from school or school-related activities, including the transportation of children by day care centers. Since your church is operating in Virginia, you should contact Virginia state officials to determine if there are any State requirements that pertain to your purchase of the vehicle.
You also asked us to address issues of liability relating to the use of 15-passenger vans. The information enclosed discusses a few general concerns associated with the operation of 15-passenger vans. You should ask your insurance agent or private attorney any questions you may have about private tort liability.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Ms. Dorothy Nakama of my staff by mail or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Stephen P. Wood
Acting Chief Counsel