Bus Inspection Unit
Michigan Department of State Police
300 North Clippert
Lansing, MI 48913
Dear Sgt. Turner:
This responds to your letter asking how Federal regulations apply to full-size passenger vans used for school transportation. I apologize for the delay in responding.
You ask us specific questions about information a local dealer provided you. You also pose hypothetical situations about how Federal law regulates the sale and lease of new vehicles with different seating capacities and configurations.
Some background information may be helpful in understanding our regulations. Under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety, NHTSA is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles, including school buses. In 1974, Congress amended this statute (then called the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act) to direct NHTSA to issue FMVSSs on specific aspects of school bus safety. Under our regulations, a "bus" is any vehicle, including a van, that has a capacity of 11 persons or more. A "school bus" is a "bus" that is sold to transport children to school or school-related events. The Act requires each person selling or leasing a new Abus@ for pupil transportation to ensure that the vehicle is a certified school bus.
While NHTSA regulates the manufacture, sale and lease of new school buses, this agency does not regulate used vehicles, or the use of vehicles. The requirements that apply to the use of school vehicles are set by the State.
Your specific questions are set forth below, followed by our answers.
QUESTION #1: Do NHTSA=s school bus requirements apply to used vehicles, including 12-passenger vans?
ANSWER: No. While NHTSA has a statutory provision relating to the repair and modification of used vehicles, our statutory provisions and standards generally apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles. Since our standards do not apply to used motor vehicles--vehicles that have been purchased for the first time in good faith for purposes other than resale--sale or lease transactions involving used school buses are not covered by Chapter 301. Thus, there would be no Federal penalty upon a person selling or leasing any used vehicle for school purposes, even if the vehicle does not comply with the school bus standards.
QUESTION #2: Do NHTSA=s school bus requirements apply to vehicles used only occasionally for school purposes (not for regularly scheduled pupil transportation)?
ANSWER: Our answer depends on how Aoccasionally@ the vehicle is used for pupil transportation. NHTSA does not prohibit the occasional rental of a van or other vehicle that does not meet the school bus standards. However, when the arrangement involves more than a one- time or very occasional rental for a special school activity, the use of the vehicle has to be examined to determine whether the bus is Aused significantly@ to transport students.
The starting point of our answer is section 30125 of Chapter 301, which sets forth the Congressional directive on school bus safety. That section defines Aschoolbus@ as:
a passenger motor vehicle designed to carry a driver and more than 10 passengers, that the Secretary of Transportation decides is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, and secondary school students to or from school or an event related to school. (Emphasis added.)
NHTSA has not defined the term Aused significantly@ as it is used in this statutory provision. Instead, we answer whether a motor vehicle is Alikely to be used significantly@ for transporting students on a case-by- case basis. Use of a vehicle to carry students Aseveral times a week@ to school-related events, as mentioned in your letter, appears to constitute a long- term relationship between the dealer and the school to provide school transportation, which may require a school bus. I have enclosed a copy of a July 22, 1985 letter to Mr. D. Leeds Pickering that discusses the issue of bus leases and rentals.
QUESTION #3: Do NHTSA=s school bus requirements apply to full-size passenger vans which have had a seat removed, reducing seating capacity from 12 to 8?
ANSWER: It may be helpful to keep in mind that anytime a dealer sells or leases a new Abus@ (a vehicle designed for 11 or more persons) to a school, that bus must be a certified school bus.
If a dealer permanently reduces the seating capacity of a bus to less than 11, the modified vehicle is no longer a Abus.@ Because the dealer would not be selling a bus, the requirement to sell a school bus does not apply. However, a dealer modifying a new vehicle in this manner would have other responsibilities as a vehicle Aalterer@ under our regulations (49 CFR '567.7). The dealer would be changing the vehicle=s classification to that of a multipurpose passenger vehicle (MPV), and would have to certify that the vehicle complies to the MPV standards.
Hypothetical situations. You ask whether a dealer would be violating NHTSA=s school bus requirements in two hypothetical situations.
Hypothetical #1: A dealer leases or sells a new full size passenger van to be used for occasional use for high school sports teams transporting players to games. The full size van comes standard with 5 seating positions. The identical van (same length, width, and manufacturer) can also be ordered with 8 or 12 seating positions. Would there be any federal violations in this scenario with 5, 8, or 12 seating positions? Would it make any difference if the vehicle in this scenario were used for regularly scheduled pupil transportation to and from school? Would it matter if the vehicle was a used 1995 van?
ANSWER: The main issue raised by this hypothetical is whether a 12-passenger van is a Aschool bus@ when ordered with five or eight seating positions.
Anytime a dealer sells or leases a new bus to a school, the vehicle has to be a school bus. The 12-passenger van is a Abus@ (capacity of 11 or more persons, driver included) and thus any new 12-passenger van sold to a school would have to be a school bus.
If the van=s seating capacity were permanently reduced to less than 11 before the vehicle=s sale, the van is no longer a Abus@ and thus is not subject to our school bus standards. The modified vehicle is considered an AMPV@ instead. While the dealer may sell or lease a new MPV to the school, the dealer altering the vehicle from a bus to an MPV must certify the vehicle as an MPV and ensure that it complies with the MPV standards, or face substantial penalties under our statute.
My discussion in the first part of this letter should answer the issues you raise relating to Aused@ vehicles and the Aoccasional@ use of the vehicle for pupil transportation.
Hypothetical No. 2: The dealer reduces the number of passenger seats in the van from 12 to 8 by removing the back (last) seat in the vehicle. Would it matter whether the extra seat in the back is easily removable on a track or is permanently bolted to the floor?
Our answer is yes, the ability to easily remove the extra seat affects whether the van is a Abus@ (and subject to the school bus standards) or an MPV. A person who removes a seat that is designed to be readily removable is not an alterer under our regulations, and would not be changing the vehicle type from a bus to an MPV. Thus, the dealer would be selling or leasing a Abus@ which is subject to the school bus standards. If the dealer were permanently removing seats that had been bolted to the floor, our answer to hypothetical #1 applies.
You also ask additional questions about the meaning of certain terms in the Congressional school bus definition. "Designed to carry" refers to the number of seating positions in the vehicle, which the vehicle manufacturer generally determines. "Events related to such schools" includes any activity connected to a school whether on or off school grounds, including sports events, band concerts, field trips, and competitions such as debate or chess tournaments.
For your information, I am also enclosing an August 1995 question-and-answer sheet about school bus issues of interest to school districts. If you have any further questions regarding Federal school bus requirements, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel
Enclosures ref:VSA#571.3 D:4/2/96