The Honorable Bart Stupak
U.S. House of Representatives
902 Ludington St.
Escanaba, MI 49829

Dear Mr. Stupak:

Thank you for your letter enclosing correspondence from your constituent, Mr. Kurt B. Ries, concerning our requirements for school vehicles. Your letter was referred to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for reply, since NHTSA regulates the manufacture of all vehicles, including vans and school buses.

Mr. Ries, Director of the Northeast Michigan Consortium, asks for relief from what he believes is a new Federal regulation. The Northeast Michigan Consortium uses a number of 15-passenger vans to transport students to employment training programs and jobs. Mr. Ries believes the new Federal regulation will require all vehicles transporting students, including vans, to be replaced with "mini-school buses," which he believes is economically unfeasible.

I appreciate this opportunity to address your constituent's concerns. As explained below, the new regulation that Mr. Ries is concerned about is not a Federal regulation, but one that Michigan is considering adopting as State law.

NHTSA has issued safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles, including school buses. Under our regulations, a "school bus" is a vehicle carrying 11 or more persons, that is sold to transport children to school or school-related events. Congress has directed NHTSA to require school bus manufacturers to meet safety standards on aspects of school bus safety, including floor strength, seating systems, and crashworthiness. Each seller of a new school bus must ensure that the vehicle is certified as meeting these safety standards.

While NHTSA regulates the manufacture and sale of new school buses, this agency does not regulate the use of vehicles. Thus, we do not have a present or pending requirement that would require Mr. Ries to cease using his vans for school transportation.

The requirements for the use of school buses and other vehicles are matters for each State to decide. We understand from Mr. Roger Lynas, the State Pupil Transportation Director in Michigan, that Michigan is considering changing its school bus definition to make it more similar to NHTSA's. Such an amendment could affect what vehicles can be used for school transportation under State law. For more information about Michigan's proposed amendment, we suggest Mr. Ries contact Mr. Lynas at (517) 373-4013.

NHTSA does not require States to permit only the use of "school buses" when buses are used for school transportation. However, we support State decisions to do so. NHTSA provides recommendations for the States on various operational aspects of school bus and pupil transportation safety programs, in the form of Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 17, "Pupil Transportation Safety," copy enclosed. Since school buses have special safety features that conventional buses do not have, such as padded, high-backed seats, protected fuel tanks, and warning lights and stop arms, they are the safest means to transport school children. Guideline 17 recommends that all buses regularly used for student transportation meet our school bus safety standards. I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Carol Stroebel Director of Intergovernmental Affairs

Enclosure ref:571 d:9/26/95