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12-001952 Matheny capacity includes driver (Standard No. 217)

Mr. Larry W. Fowler

Matheny Motors

3rd & Ann Streets

P.O. Box 1304

Parkersburg, WV 26102-1304

Dear Mr. Fowler:

This responds to your letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asking about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217, Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release. We apologize for the delay in responding; we regret that we did not receive the January 19, 2012 letter you had sent.

You ask for clarification of the term seating capacity as used in Table 1 and Table 2 of FMVSS No. 217, i.e., whether the driver is considered part of the seating capacity of a bus for purposes of determining the additional emergency exits needed under S5.2.3 of the standard. As explained below, our answer is yes, the driver seat is included as part of the seating capacity.

In 1992, FMVSS No. 217 was amended to revise the minimum requirements for school bus emergency exits.[1] Instead of requiring all school buses to have the same number of exits, the standard was amended to establish minimum emergency exit space based on the seating capacity of each bus. The amendment determined the number of additional exits using a calculation that was based on the designated seating positions in the bus. Under our regulations, we consider a drivers seat to be a designated seating position.[2]

In a 1995 amendment, NHTSA replaced the calculations with simple tables, including Tables 1 and 2.[3] The agency explained that the number of exits required by the tables would be derived from the existing requirement. There was no discussion of changing seating capacity to exclude the drivers seat. Thus, we interpret Tables 1 and 2 as simply reflecting the assumptions and calculations that were used previous to the tables. That being the case, seating capacity includes the drivers seat.

It makes sense for seating capacity to include the drivers seat for purposes of Table 1 and 2. In an emergency, the driver will be among the occupants needing to exit the vehicle quickly. Including the drivers position in the calculation supports the goal of having sufficient exits to accommodate the occupants of the bus.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Deirdre Fujita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.


O. Kevin Vincent

Chief Counsel

Dated: 8/14/12

Ref: Standard No. 217

[1] 57 FR 49413; November 2, 1992.

[2] Designated seating position is defined in our regulations at 49 CFR 571.3.

[3] 60 FR 24562; May 9, 1995.