Thornton, Mastrucci & Sinclair
4699 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
Coral Gables, FL 33146-2188
Dear Ms. Mastrucci:
This responds to your request for an interpretation as to which passenger vehicles and which multipurpose passenger vehicles (MPVs) meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs). You ask this since Florida law allows transportation of pupils in MPVs that meet "all federal motor vehicle safety standards for passenger cars." As explained below, in recent years many of the FMVSSs have been amended to have the same requirements for passenger cars and MPVs. However where differences exist, the only way your client, Dade County School Board, will be able to determine that a specific MPV meets the FMVSSs applicable to passenger cars would be to contact the vehicle's manufacturer.
NHTSA is authorized under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 Motor Vehicle Safety to issue FMVSSs for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. The FMVSSs are codified at Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 571. There are presently 53 FMVSSs. Each FMVSS's applicability section specifies the motor vehicles and/or equipment to which it applies.
Under 49 U.S.C. section 30112, a person may not manufacture or sell any motor vehicle unless the vehicle meets all applicable FMVSSs and is so certified. Section 30115 establishes a self-certification system whereby the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for certifying that the vehicle meets the safety requirements in the standards applicable to the vehicle. In the certification, the manufacturer must specify the vehicle type (e.g., passenger car, MPV, truck, bus) of the vehicle. Each vehicle type's definition is found at 49 CFR Part 571.3 Definitions. Thus, a new passenger car sold in the U.S. must be certified by the manufacturer as meeting the FMVSSs applicable to passenger cars, and a new MPV must be certified as meeting the standards applicable to MPVs.
In recent years, many FMVSSs have been amended to specify the same requirements for passenger cars and MPVs. For example, for model year 1998 vehicles, Standard No. 208, Occupant crash protection will specify identical requirements for passenger cars and MPVs. For Standard No. 214, Side impact protection, in July 1995, NHTSA issued a final rule in which MPVs manufactured after September 1, 1998 would be required to meet the same dynamic testing requirements as passenger cars.
However, some safety standards that apply to both passenger cars and MPVs do not specify identical requirements for each vehicle type. For example, Standard No. 103 Windshield defrosting and defogging systems applies to passenger cars and MPVs, but specifies different requirements for each vehicle type.
There is no easy way to determine whether a particular MPV meets the passenger car safety standards. Because of differences in FMVSS requirements for passenger cars and MPVs, for information whether a particular MPV meets the passenger car standards, you should contact the MPV's manufacturer. Please note that for some safety standards such as Standard No. 208, a manufacturer may have phased-in the compliance of its MPVs with the safety standard over several years. Therefore, some MPVs manufactured in a particular year may meet the newer standard but other MPVs may not. For information about whether a specific MPV meets the passenger car standards, the manufacturer should be provided with the MPV's seventeen digit vehicle identification number (VIN), which can be found on the vehicle's certification label on the hinge pillar, the door-latch post, or the door edge that meets the door-latch post, next to the driver's seating position.
I hope this information is helpful. If you need any further information, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel