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15401pre.emp

Mr. Donald Fowler
Interpretations Committee Chairman
1995 National Conference on School Transportation
1213 E. Main St.
Richmond, MO 64085

Dear Mr. Fowler:

This responds to your June 12, 1997, interpretation request which you faxed to this agency, asking whether your organization's recommendations for school bus fuel tanks "conflict" with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 301, Fuel System Integrity. The question you ask presupposes that a State has prescribed a standard incorporating the recommendations for fuel tanks of the 1995 National conference on school buses. You wish to know whether the State standard would be preempted by Federal law, or whether it would be considered to impose a "higher level of performance" and thus permitted.

The recommendations of the 1995 National Conference of School Transportation include seven for the "Fuel Tank" (pages 16-17, National Standards for School Buses and School Bus Operations, 1995 Revised Edition). We have restated these in an attachment to this letter. The recommendations primarily concern location of the fuel tank and related components, such as the fuel filter and filler spouts. There is also a provision concerning installation of alternative fuel systems and LPG tanks.

Conventional Fuels

Under 30103 of our statute (49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq., see attachment), Federal law will preempt a State law if (1) there is a Federal safety standard in effect, (2) the State law covers the same aspect of performance as that Federal standard, and (3) the State law is not identical to the Federal standard; except to the extent that the State requirement imposes a higher level of performance and applies only to vehicles procured for the State's use.

Our statute would preempt State requirements of general applicability governing the location of the tank and components. The State requirements are intended to ensure the integrity of the vehicle fuel system and, therefore, would be regarded by the agency as relating to the same aspect of performance as the barrier impact tests of Standard 301. In developing the performance requirements of the standard, the agency did not intend that the location of fuel tanks and other components should be regulated. That aspect of fuel system construction is preempted by Standard 301.

However, the second sentence of 30103(d)(1) clarifies that the limit on State safety regulations of general applicability does not prevent governmental entities from specifying additional safety features in vehicles purchased for the State's own use. Thus, the State or its political subdivisions could specify additional fuel system requirements, such as those for tank location and the other provisions set forth in your recommendations, in the case of public school buses. The State requirements cannot, however, prevent the school bus or equipment from complying with applicable Federal safety standards.

Alternative Fuels

Recommendation No. 7 states: "Installation of alternative fuel systems, including fuel tanks and piping from tank to engine, shall comply with all applicable fire codes and applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in effect on the date of manufacture of the bus. * * * Installation of LPG tanks shall comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 58."

Our statute would preempt State requirements of general applicability governing compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel system integrity unless they are identical to the Federal standard. Standard 303, Fuel System Integrity of Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles, applies to school buses that use CNG as a motor fuel. A State standard for CNG vehicle fuel system integrity must be identical to Standard 303, unless it specifies additional requirements for public school buses.

There is no Federal standard on LPG tanks. We have issued Standard 304 for CNG fuel container integrity, but there is no comparable standard for LPG containers. Because there is no Federal standard for LPG tanks, State standards for such tanks would not be preempted.

The Federal Highway Administration may have operational and equipment requirements for some types of school buses. We have forwarded a copy of your fax to the FHWA for its views on your recommendations.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have other questions, please contact Deirdre Fujita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely,
John Womack
Acting Chief Counsel
Enclosure
ref:VSA#301#303


ATTACHMENT A

Excerpt from National Standards for School Buses

and School Bus Operations

(1995 Revised Edition, Pp. 16-17)

  1. Fuel tank or tanks having a 30 gallon capacity with a 25 gallon actual draw shall be provided by the chassis manufacturer. The tank shall be filled and vented to the outside of the body, in a location where accidental fuel spillage will not drip or drain on any part of the exhaust system.

  2. No portion of the fuel system which is located outside the engine compartment, except the filler tube, shall extend above the top of the chassis frame rail. Fuel lines shall be mounted to obtain maximum possible protection from the chassis frame.

  3. Fuel filter with replaceable element shall be installed between the fuel tank and engine.

  4. Fuel tank installation shall be in accordance with SBMI Design Objectives, 1990 edition, and all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in effect on the date of manufacture of the bus.

    1. Fuel tank(s) may be mounted between the chassis frame rails or outboard of the frame rails on either the left or right side of the vehicle.

  5. The actual draw capacity of each fuel tank shall be 83% of the tank capacity.

  6. Unless specific agreement has been made between the body and chassis manufacturers, fuel tanks and filler spouts shall not be located in spaces restricted by SBMI Design Objectives, 1990 edition.

  7. Installation of alternative fuel systems, including fuel tanks and piping from tank to engine, shall comply with all applicable fire codes and applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in effect on the date of manufacture of the bus.

    1. Installation of LPG tanks shall comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 58.

Section 30103(b)(1) of Title 49 of the United States Code

When a motor vehicle safety standard is in effect under this chapter, a State or political subdivision of a State may prescribe or continue in effect a standard applicable to the same aspect of performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment only if the standard is identical to the standard prescribed under this chapter. However, the United States Government, a State, or a political subdivision of a State may prescribe a standard for a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment obtained for its own use that imposes a higher performance requirement than that required by the otherwise applicable standard under this chapter.