Lisa M. Sanford, Esq.
Hunton & Williams, LLP
200 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10166-0005
Dear Ms. Sanford:
This responds to your letter asking whether a non-profit organization may hire drivers and purchase 15-passenger vans to transport students from school to an after school activity, then home. Our answers are provided below.
By way of background, 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 to sell a vehicle that meets the FMVSSs applying to school buses. A multi-function school activity bus (MFSAB) may be sold if the to-or-from-school transportation does not involve school bus route transportation (i.e., that does 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).
You first ask if your client may purchase 15-passenger vans to transport the children from school to the after-school activities and then home. The enclosed letter of July 17, 1998 to Greg Balmer addresses this issue. In the letter to Mr. Balmer, we state that--
The pertinent issue is not whether the YMCA [i.e., the entity providing the transportation in the Balmer letter] is a school, but whether the bus will be significantly used to transport school children to or from school (as described in Section 30125). If the bus will be used for such a purpose, a school bus must be sold, regardless of whether such transportation is provided by a school, a day care facility, or any other entity.
In the situation presented by your client, it is anticipated that the buses will be used regularly to take students from school to their after-school activities. In such a situation, dealers selling a new bus must sell a new bus that meets all applicable school bus or MFSAB standards.
In addition, we have had numerous safety campaigns to warn people of the risk of rollover in conventional 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.
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 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 and non-profit organizations. Your client should contact the State officials in the State in which the non-profit organization is providing the transportation to determine if there are any State requirements that pertain to the transportation of the school children.
You also ask whether such vehicles would be commercial motor vehicles, and whether the drivers would be considered drivers-for-hire. Programs regulating commercial motor vehicles and commercial driver licensing are administered by the U.S. Department of Transportations Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can contact FMCSAs Chief Counsels office by calling (202) 493-0349.
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
 The statute defined school bus as 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 (49 U.S.C. 30125).
 Bus is defined in 49 CFR 571.3 of our regulations as a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons.