Mr. Bob Presley
Harreld Chevrolet Company
P.O. Box 413
Canton, MS 39046
Dear Mr. Presley:
This responds to your request for an interpretation whether a vehicle (with a seating capacity of 11 or more including the driver) used by a taxi service to transport school children from school to non-school activities must meet the Federal school bus safety standards. In answering your question, we have considered whether the vehicle will "significantly" be used to transport the school children from school. Under the facts you presented, we believe that the vehicle will not be "significantly" used to transport school children, and that you therefore need not sell a school bus to the taxi service. However, you should bear in mind that State law might affect the type of vehicle sold or used to carry school children.
In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you explained that a local taxi service wishes to purchase a new vehicle from your dealership, and you wish to know whether you must sell a school bus. The taxi service would in part use the van to pick the students up from their schools and take the students to after-school activities designated by the students' parents. The taxi service is arranged by the parents and not by the school. During the day, the same vehicle will be used for other taxi services, such as transporting older persons on errands or to appointments, or pilots from the airport to hotels. The vehicle may also be rented out to churches for church-related transportation.
You further explained to Ms. Nakama that the taxi service has just a total of 8 to 10 vehicles in its fleet. You believe that 4 of the taxi vehicles are 15-passenger vans and the other vehicles are designed to carry 8 to 10 persons. No particular vehicle in the fleet is used only to transport the students, and you believe the taxi service intends multiple uses for the vehicle it intends to buy, not just transportation for students. You also believe that 90 percent of the time, the vehicles in the taxi fleet are used for purposes other than picking up students from school.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized by Congress to issue and enforce the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. 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 the vehicle "is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, and secondary school students to or from school or an event related to school." (Emphasis added.) 49 U.S.C. 30125(a)(1).
Under the facts that you discussed with Ms. Nakama, the buses would be used to transport students "from school." The question is whether the buses are "likely to be used significantly" to transport the students from school. (Emphasis added). This question is one that the agency finds appropriate to resolve case-by-case, focusing on the intended use of the vehicle.
In view of the small percentage of time that any vehicle in the taxi fleet will be used to transport students, I have concluded that the vehicles in the taxi fleet are not "significantly" used to transport students from school. Accordingly, if a dealer were to sell a new bus (van) to the taxi service, it would not need to sell a new school bus.
Please note that Federal law and NHTSA's safety standards directly regulate only the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles, not their use. Each State is free to impose its own standards regarding use of motor vehicles, including school buses. For information on Mississippi's requirements on transportation of school children, please contact Mississippi's State Director of Pupil Transportation:
Ms. Regina Ginn
Director of Transportation
Mississippi Department of Education
P.O. Box 771
Jackson, MS 39205
Ms. Ginn's telephone number is: (601) 359-1028.
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 buses that do not meet the school bus standards 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 "Dealers' 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.
Acting Chief Counsel