Mr. Jonathan Weisheit
J.K. Technologies, L.L.C.
3500 Sweet Air Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
Dear Mr. Weisheit:
This responds to your question asking about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217, Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release. You ask about S126.96.36.199(b) of that standard, as it applies to an open top double decked bus that your client Ensign Bus, a bus importer, wishes to import into the United States. As explained below, it appears that the bus does not comply with certain provisions of FMVSS No. 217.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 to issue and enforce safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment. Manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable standards. NHTSA does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, nor do we endorse any commercial products.
Description of the Double Decker Bus
In your letter, you write that the double decker bus that Ensign Bus wishes to import has two stairways that access the open top upper deck of the bus. You describe one stairway as midway between the center of the bus and the front of the bus, to the left of center. You describe the other stairway as midway between the center of the bus and the rear of the vehicle to the right of center. Because of the engines location, there is neither a rear emergency window exit nor a rear emergency door exit on the lower deck.
You provided schematics, showing the seating positions on both the upper and lower decks of the bus, and the locations of the stairways in relation to the seating positions. The schematic of the bus states that the lower deck has 30 seating positions (apparently not counting the drivers seat) and that the upper deck has 46 seating positions. You also provided photographs of the interior of the lower deck. In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you stated that the double decker bus is over 10,000 pounds (lb) gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
Under S5.2.1 of the standard, manufacturers of buses other than school buses may meet FMVSS No. 217 requirements for the provision of emergency exits by meeting either S5.2.2, Buses other than school buses, or S5.2.3, School buses. You seek confirmation that the bus at issue would satisfy the requirements of S188.8.131.52(b) of FMVSS No. 217 (the school bus requirements) with the two stairway exits to the roof/upper deck.
S184.108.40.206(b), Emergency roof exit, states, in relevant part:
(1) Each emergency roof exit shall be hinged on its forward side, and shall be operable from both inside and outside the vehicle.
(3) In a bus equipped with two emergency roof exits, one shall be located as near as practicable to a point equidistant between the midpoint of the passenger compartment and the foremost limit of the passenger compartment and the other shall be located as near as practicable to a point equidistant between the midpoint of the passenger compartment and the rearmost point of the passenger compartment.
(5) Except as provided in paragraph (b)(6) of this section, each emergency roof exit shall be installed with its longitudinal centerline coinciding with a longitudinal vertical plane passing through the longitudinal centerline of the school bus.
(6) In a bus equipped with two or more emergency roof exits, for each roof exit offset from the longitudinal vertical plane specified in paragraph (b)(5) of this section, there shall be another roof exit offset from that plane an equal distance to the other side.
A question presented by your inquiry is whether S220.127.116.11(b) requires a cover or hatch of some sort for the roof exit. If these school bus roof emergency exit requirements require a cover, your exits (the staircases) would not meet the requirements, since they are not covered.
After consideration of the standard and its history, our conclusion is that S18.104.22.168(b) does not contemplate this particular kind of roof exit (uncovered stairways to the roof of a double decker bus). In stating that the roof exit shall be hinged on its forward side, and shall be operable from both inside and outside the vehicle, S22.214.171.124(b)(1) assumes the existence of a cover or hatch. We do not construe the language of S126.96.36.199(b)(1) as an indirect requirement that a roof exit consisting of a staircase to the upper level of a double decker bus be covered. Covering the staircase poses challenges for a double decker bus, given how passengers are intended to move between the lower and upper levels of the vehicle. (If the staircase had a cover, the cover must meet the requirements in the standard for emergency exit covers, including their release.)
With regard to other provisions in S188.8.131.52(b), it appears from your enclosures that the roof exits would meet them. One roof exit appears to be located as near as practicable to a point equidistant between the midpoint of the passenger compartment and the foremost limit of the passenger compartment and the other appears to be located as near as practicable to a point equidistant between the midpoint of the passenger compartment and the rearmost point of the passenger compartment, as specified in S184.108.40.206(b)(3). From your enclosures, it also appears that for each of the roof exits offset from the longitudinal vertical plane specified in paragraph S220.127.116.11(b)(5), the other roof exit is offset from that plane an equal distance to the other side. Thus, S18.104.22.168(b)(6) appears satisfied.
However, there are other requirements in S5.2.3 with which it appears the bus does not comply. These are discussed below.
Other Requirements in S5.2.3
S5.2.3, the section of the standard you have elected to meet, states:
S5.2.3 School buses. Except as provided in S22.214.171.124, each school bus shall comply with S126.96.36.199 through S188.8.131.52.
S184.108.40.206. Each school bus shall be equipped with the exits specified in either S220.127.116.11(a) or S18.104.22.168(b), chosen at the option of the manufacturer.
(a) One rear emergency door that opens outward and is hinged on the right side (either side in the case of a bus with a GVWR or 10,000 pounds or less), and the additional exits, if any, specified in Table 1 [of Standard No. 217].
(b) One emergency door on the vehicles left side that is hinged on its forward side and meets the requirements of S22.214.171.124(a), and a push-out rear window that provides a minimum opening clearance 41 centimeters high and 122 centimeters wide and meets the requirements of S126.96.36.199(c), and the additional exits, if any, specified by Table 2 [of Standard No. 217].
* * * * *
In order to comply with S5.2, Provision of emergency exits, the bus must meet either all of the requirements in S5.2.2 or all of the requirements in S5.2.3. Based on the schematics of the bus you have provided, it appears that the bus does not have a rear emergency door or an emergency door on the vehicles left side. Thus, the bus does not appear to comply with S188.8.131.52 and, as a result, would not satisfy S5.2.3.
If you have any further questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
O. Kevin Vincent
 Based on the photographs and schematics provided, the staircase at the front of the bus appears to be flush with the left side of the bus and the staircase at the rear of the bus appears to be flush with the right side of the bus.