Camp Berachah Christian Retreat Center
19830 S.E. 328th Place
Auburn, WA 98092-2212
Dear Ms. Bailey:
This responds to your letter and telephone call to Walter Myers of this office asking two questions about new 15-passenger vans that Camp Berachah leased from a dealer. I apologize for the delay in this response.
You first asked whether we require the leased vans to comply with our Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) for school buses. You also asked whether we require the vans to comply with those FMVSSs if Camp Berachah loaned or subleased them to a school. Subject to a few considerations, the answer to both questions is no.
Some background information on our school bus regulations would be helpful. Our regulations require any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all FMVSSs applicable to that vehicle. Accordingly, persons selling or leasing a new school bus must sell or lease a vehicle that meets the FMVSSs applicable to school buses. Under 49 U.S.C. '30101, et seq. (referred to as Safety Act), a school bus is any vehicle that carries 11 or more persons and which is likely to be significantly used to transport students to or from school or related events. Thus, persons selling or leasing a new vehicle that carries 11 or more persons and which is likely to be significantly used to carry students is selling or leasing a new school bus. That means that the new vehicle must meet the school bus FMVSSs.
The FMVSSs apply only to new vehicles prior to sale to the first retail purchaser. The onus of complying with the school bus regulations is mainly on the seller or dealer to ensure that each new school bus it sells or leases has been certified to the school bus FMVSSs. The purchaser, on the other hand, is
not subject to such constraints. Under our school bus regulations, the purchaser is free to use any vehicle to transport school children. That is because this agency does not regulate the use of vehicles once they have been sold at retail.
Turning to your questions, we answer no to your first question based on the following. It was unclear from your letter whether Camp Berachah is connected with a school. In directing NHTSA to issue its school bus regulations, Congress considered buses used to transport children to camps connected with schools to be subject to the school bus FMVSSs. However, you clarified the nature of Camp Berachah in your conversation with Mr. Myers. You said that Camp Berachah is independent from any school and is not in any way affiliated with a school. Based on that information, Camp Berachah does not appear to be a school. Thus, our school bus regulations do not require the leasing of complying school buses for Camp Berachah purposes.
In your second question, you asked whether the new leased vans had to comply with the school bus FMVSSs if Camp Berachah lent, rented or subleased them to a school. The answer depends on whether the vans are significantly used for pupil transportation, and if so, whether the dealer knew or should have known of such use. New vans that are likely to be significantly used to transport school children would be school buses, and the dealer leasing the new van is required to lease certified school buses. Use of the vans on a one-time or occasional basis would not constitute significant use as a school bus. However, if Camp Berachah were to sublease the vans to a school for long-term use, we believe the use of those vans for school transportation would be significant within the meaning of the Safety Act. Accordingly, the leasing company could not lease a new van for this purpose.
You should also note that the states have the authority to regulate the use of vehicles by motorists. Thus, although NHTSA does not require the sale or use of complying school buses in the situations you described, Washington does have such authority. You may wish to contact the state director of pupil transportation to learn more about any state requirements applicable to vehicles used as school buses.
In closing, we would like to note that school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country. We therefore strongly recommend that all 15- passenger vans that are used to transport school children be certified as meeting the school bus safety standards.
I hope this information is helpful. Should you have any further questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact Mr. Myers at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel