Attorney at Law
Strain Building, Suite 613
P. O. Box 1946
Great Falls, MT 59403-1946
Dear Mr. Kampfer:
This responds to your request for an interpretation whether your client, which intends to transport adults and children to and from activities at a church camp, must purchase a school bus. Since the camp appears to be neither a school nor school-related, NHTSA does not consider the vehicles used to transport the children to be school buses. However, state law determines vehicle use, so Montana's laws determine the answer to your question.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles, including school buses. It is a violation of Federal law for any person to sell any new bus that does not meet all Federal school bus safety standards if that person is aware that the purchaser intends to use the vehicle as a school bus. NHTSA defines "school bus" as a motor vehicle designed for carrying 11 or more persons, including a driver, and sold for purposes that include transporting students to and from "school or school-related events." Whether your client must be sold school buses depends on whether the camp is considered a "school or school-related event."
For the following reasons, NHTSA does not consider the camp to be a "school." To determine whether the church camp is a school, the agency looks at whether the function of the facility is primarily educational or custodial in nature. In describing the camp's activities, your letter states: "There is no particular schooling involved as such, but the camp does include various religious and recreational activities." In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you confirmed that the camp offers outdoor recreational activities and religious instruction, but offers no "academic education." Since you have indicated that academic instruction is not provided, it does not appear that the church camp is a school.
As to whether the church camp is a school-related event, the agency looks at the overall relationship between the program and the schools from which children are being transported to attend the program. Since the camp is not related to a school, NHTSA would not consider the camp to be a "school-related event."
Under Federal law, your client need not be sold school buses. However, each State has the authority to regulate the use of vehicles within its jurisdiction. Since the individual States have authority over the use of vehicles, you must look to the State law of your client's camp to determine if the camp may use vans to transport children.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel