Mr. Ashpy Lowrimore Senior Vice President Southern National Bank P.O. Box 6676 Florence, SC 29502
Dear Mr. Lowrimore:
This responds to your August 11, 1994 letter regarding our requirements for school vehicles. You explain that your church owns a "commercial bus" and a 15-passenger van and would like to use these vehicles to transport children attending a kindergarten and after school care program that the church operates. You ask to be advised of any requirements applicable to those two vehicles, and have three questions, which I will answer below.
I would like to begin with background information about our requirements. Our agency has two sets of regulations, issued under different Acts of Congress, that affect school vehicles. The first of these, the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS's) issued under 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles. Our agency was directed by Congress in 1974 to issue standards on specific aspects of school bus safety, including floor strength, seating systems, and crashworthiness. The standards we issued apply to all new vehicles designed to carry 11 or more persons and sold for pupil transportation purposes. Under our requirements, such a vehicle is a "school bus," and any person selling such a vehicle must ensure that the new vehicle is certified as meeting the FMVSS's for school buses.
The second set of regulations issued by this agency was promulgated under the Highway Safety Act of 1966. These "regulations" are actually recommendations from NHTSA to the States for use in developing their highway safety programs. Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 17, Pupil Transportation Safety, 23 CFR 1204 (copy enclosed), applies to school vehicles, and contains recommendations for the design, identification and operation of school vehicles. Individual States have chosen to adopt some or all of Guideline No. 17 as their own policies governing their highway safety programs.
With that background in mind, I turn now to your specific questions:
1. Can we transport children who are related with our various schools by utilizing the van?
ANSWER: The answer depends on State law, because the States regulate the use of motor vehicles, not NHTSA. NHTSA regulates the manufacture and sale of new vehicles. Any person selling a new bus or a new 15- passenger van to your church for purposes that include transporting kindergarten students to and from school or related events must sell buses that meet our FMVSS's for school buses, or face substantial civil fines and injunctive sanctions. NHTSA does not have the authority to regulate vehicle users, and thus does not mandate what vehicle can be used to transport school children. Thus, our regulations impose no requirement on schools that require them to transport students in complying school buses.
While NHTSA does not require the use of any particular type of vehicle to transport students, we believe that school buses are the safest motor vehicle transportation currently available. We have included in Guideline No. 17 a recommendation that States require any bus (or van carrying 11 or more persons) used to carry school children to comply with all FMVSS's applicable to school buses at the time of their manufacture (see, recommendation number IV.B.1.h). However, since Guideline No. 17 will affect your church's school vehicles only if South Carolina has adopted it, you should check to see what State requirements are set for the operation of the school vehicles in question.
Mr. Perry Brown, Deputy Director of South Carolina's Office of Highway Safety Programs, would be able to provide information about your State's requirements. He can be contacted at the following address:
Mr. Perry Brown Edgar A. Brown State Office Building 1205 Pendleton St., Rm. 453 Columbia, SC 29201
2. Are there restrictions associated with the use of the bus in the transportation of children, young adults or senior adults?
As explained above, NHTSA has no restriction on the use of motor vehicles. Restrictions on the use of a vehicle are matters of State law. Among other things, the State could require a special driver's license for persons operating buses as you described. A South Carolina official would be able to provide the information you need.
3. If there are special restrictions, can you elaborate on the type of equipment that we must obtain in order to meet any regulations or requirements that are in place?
ANSWER: Again, NHTSA has no restrictions on the use of the vehicles by the church. Further, NHTSA does not require schools operating their vehicles to ensure that the vehicles are specially identified or equipped as school vehicles. However, Guideline No. 17 contains recommendations for identifying school buses and equipping them with safety equipment, including school bus lamps and mirrors and emergency equipment. South Carolina may have adopted some of these recommendations in its highway safety program for school vehicles.
In summary, NHTSA does not have the authority to regulate the use of school vehicles owned and operated by your church. You should check with South Carolina officials to find out which, if any, State requirements apply to your church's activities.
We hope this information is helpful to you. Should you have any further questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact Walter Myers of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel