Beaudry Ford, Inc.
141 Piedmont Avenue, N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30303
Dear Mr. Griffith:
This responds to your May 9, 1997, request for an opinion whether your dealership must retrofit a 15- passenger Ford Club Wagon to meet the school bus standards if you wish to sell the vehicle to an organization transporting adults for medical care. The answer to your question is that NHTSA does not require a dealer to sell a school bus to a noneducational organization that will use the vehicle to transport adults. State law regulates how the adults are to be transported.
Your letter stated you wish to sell a vehicle to "Sheltering Arms." In a telephone conversation, you explained to Dorothy Nakama of my staff that "Sheltering Arms" is an Atlanta charity providing medical assistance and drug rehabilitation for adults. Sheltering Arms does not provide education of any kind.
Our statute at 49 U.S.C. 30112(a) requires any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. Accordingly, persons selling or leasing a new "school bus" must sell or lease a vehicle that meets the safety standards applicable to school buses. Under 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., a "school bus" is any vehicle that is designed for carrying 11 or more persons and which is likely to be "used significantly" to transport "preprimary, primary, and secondary"students to or from school or related events. 49 U.S.C. 30125.
Since Sheltering Arms will not be transporting "preprimary, primary, and secondary" students to or from school or related events, the 15-passenger van that your dealership wants to sell need not be a school bus. However, states have the authority to regulate the use of vehicles, and Georgia law may affect Sheltering Arms' use of vans. Sheltering Arms may wish to contact the Georgia state department of motor vehicles to learn about any State requirements applicable to vehicles used to transport adults that need medical care.
You also note that 15-passenger Club Wagons are used by charitable organizations, churches, and schools, and ask "are these units in violation of the law." Vehicle use (even for schools) is a matter of State law. As to whether a dealer is required to sell a school bus rather than a conventional van, the answer depends in part on whether the institution is a school. Enclosed are several interpretation letters that NHTSA has issued that define "school" in specific situations. These letters are dated: September 6, 1991, and May 29, 1991, to Ms. Vel McCaslin (after-school programs); May 30, 1995, to Ms. Barbara Bailey (camp not affiliated with a school); and October 4, 1994, to Mr. Ashpy Lowrimore (church-operated after-school program).
You also ask for our comments on a draft affidavit form that you would have purchasers sign in sales of new 15-passenger vans, affirming that the vehicle will not be used to transport students to and from school or related events. We encourage your efforts to ascertain the intended use of the vehicles. Please note, however, that having buyers fill out and sign the affidavit will not necessarily insulate a dealership from NHTSA's enforcement actions (under Federal law) for selling new vehicles that do not meet school bus standards, if, for example, a dealer knows that the affidavit is false or misleading. Also, the extent to which this document can protect you from potential liability under State law will depend on Georgia law.
We would suggest a few clarifications of the document, for your consideration. The first paragraph refers to "The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966." The Act was recodified in 1994. It may now be referred to as: "Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301 Motor Vehicle Safety." Your second paragraph basically states that 571.3 prohibits the sale or lease of any vehicle designed for 11 persons, for school transportation. It would be more accurate to state NHTSA's legal requirement as: "Title 49 of the United States Code, Section 30112(a), requires any person selling or offering for lease any new vehicle that is designed for carrying 11 or more persons and which is likely to be used significantly to transport students to or from school or related events, to sell or lease a vehicle that meets the Federal safety standards applicable to school buses."
For your information, I am also enclosing copies of NHTSA's publications, "Dealers' Questions About Federal School Bus Safety Requirements," and "Frequently Asked Questions About Federal School Bus Safety Requirements."
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