Risk Management & Insurance Department
Pinellas County Schools
301 Fourth St., S.W., Box 2942
Largo, FL 34649-2942
Dear Mr. Jacobson:
This responds to your letter concerning the transportation of students in school buses and other vehicles and the safety standards which apply to these vehicles. You asked for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration=s (NHTSA) definition of "passenger car," and in a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you also asked for NHTSA's definition of an MPV. You further inquired how one can determine whether an MPV meets the passenger car safety standards.
Under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety , NHTSA is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) for new motor vehicles. We require any person selling a new vehicle to ensure that the vehicle is certified to all applicable FMVSSs. There are presently 53 FMVSSs. Each FMVSS specifies the motor vehicles to which it applies.
The vehicle definitions we use for purposes of applying the FMVSSs are set forth at Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, section 571.3. "Passenger car" is defined in that section as:
a motor vehicle with motive power, except a multipurpose passenger vehicle, motorcycle, or trailer, designed for carrying 10 persons or less.
"Multipurpose passenger vehicle" is also defined in that section as:
a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed to carry 10 persons or less which is constructed either on a truck chassis or with special features for occasional off-road operation.
Under Chapter 301, a motor vehicle manufacturer is required to certify that its vehicles meet all applicable FMVSSs. If the vehicle is an MPV, the manufacturer must certify that the vehicle
meets the FMVSSs applicable to MPVs, but it need not certify compliance with FMVSSs, or portions of FMVSSs, that apply only to passenger cars. In recent years, many FMVSSs have been amended to specify the same requirements for passenger cars and MPVs. However, some safety standards that apply to both passenger cars and MPVs do not specify identical requirements for each vehicle type. Examples are Standard No. 102, Transmission shift lever sequence, starter interlock, and transmission braking effect, and Standard No. 103, Windshield defrosting and defogging systems.
There is no easy way to determine the extent to which a particular MPV meets the passenger car safety standards. Because of differences in FMVSS requirements for passenger cars and MPVs, you should contact the MPV's manufacturer for information about a particular MPV's conformance with the passenger car standards.
You asked for "a list of the present vehicles that conform to [Federal] standards." NHTSA does not keep such a list. The law requires each new vehicle to meet all applicable FMVSSs. Therefore, a manufacturer who sells new passenger cars or MPVs in the United States must ensure that its vehicles conform to all applicable FMVSSs or be subject to substantial legal penalties, including the responsibility to recall the vehicle and remedy the nonconformance free of charge.
You also ask whether there are differences between the State's definition of "passenger car" and NHTSA's definition. While the State may choose to define "passenger cars" differently than NHTSA, it cannot thereby alter the applicability of the FMVSSs to a particular vehicle. It is NHTSA's definition that determines whether a vehicle will be subject to the FMVSSs applicable to passenger cars or to those applicable to MPVs.
For your information, I am enclosing a copy of our December 26, 1995 letter to Ms. Jane Thornton Mastrucci, attorney for the Dade County School Board, which addresses issues similar to those you have raised. Further, because you asked about requirements for pupil transportation, I have enclosed a question-and- answer information sheet on frequently asked questions about NHTSA=s school bus requirements.
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
Enclosures ref:vsa#571.3 D:2/26/96