Mr. Dale Thornsberry
Director of Operations
Twin Falls Public Schools
201 Main Avenue, West
Twin Falls, ID 83301

Dear Mr. Thornsberry:

This responds to your request for our views on using fifteen-passenger vans to transport school children for activities sponsored by your school district. As explained below, we strongly urge that you use school buses when transporting school children for school activities.

Some background information may be helpful. More than an "advisory group," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized by Congress to issue and enforce the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. In 1974, Congress enacted legislation directing NHTSA to issue motor vehicle safety standards on specific aspects of school bus safety and to apply those standards to all school buses. Such standards became effective on April 1, 1977, and apply to every school bus manufactured on or after that date. The standards are at 49 CFR Part 571.

Under Federal law, a vehicle, including a van designed for carrying 11 or more persons is a bus. A bus is a school bus if used or intended for use in transporting students to and from school or school-related activities.

NHTSA's statute requires each person selling a new school bus to ensure that the vehicle meets all applicable safety standards. Thus, a person may sell a new bus, including a van designed to carry 11 or more persons (including the driver), to a school or school district only if the vehicle is certified as complying with our school bus safety standards. The onus is on the seller to ascertain the intended use of the bus. The seller risks substantial penalties if he or she knowingly sells a vehicle for use as a school bus and the vehicle is not certified as such.

Please note that Federal law and NHTSA's safety standards directly regulate only the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles, not their use. Under Federal law, school districts are not prohibited from using vans to transport school children, whether or not such vans meet school bus safety standards. Each State is free to impose its own standards regarding use of motor vehicles, including school buses.

Under the authority of the Highway Safety Act of 1966, NHTSA has issued guidelines for States to use in developing their highway safety programs. NHTSA has issued Highway Safety Program Guideline 17, Pupil Transportation Safety, to provide recommendations on various operational aspects of State school bus and pupil transportation safety programs. Guideline 17 (copy enclosed) recommends that any vehicle designed to carry more than 10 persons which is used as a school bus meet all safety standards applicable to school buses at the time the vehicle was manufactured. Each State determines the extent to which it adopts the recommendations in Guideline 17.

For information on Idaho's requirements on transportation of school children, please contact Idaho's State Director of Pupil Transportation:

Rodney McKnight, Coordinator
Pupil Transportation
Idaho Department of Education
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, Idaho 83720-0027

Mr. McKnight's telephone number is: (208) 334-2203.

Finally, it is NHTSA's position that vehicles meeting Federal school bus safety standards have proven to be the safest way to transport school children. Use of noncomplying vehicles to transport students could result in increased liability in the event of a crash. Since liability would likely be determined by State law, you may wish to consult with your attorneys and insurance carriers for advice on this issue.

I hope this information is helpful. I have enclosed a question-and-answer sheet on "Frequently Asked Questions About Federal School Bus Safety Requirements." 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.

John Womack
Acting Chief Counsel