Mr. Peter K. Welch
Director of Government and Legal Affairs
California Motor Car Dealers Association
915 L Street, Suite 1480
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Mr. Welch:
This responds to your October 28, 1997, request for an interpretation about a new vehicle (with a seating capacity of 11 or more, including the driver), sold by a dealer to a private family. You wish to know whether, if the dealer knows the family will use the vehicle to transport school children to and from school, the dealer must sell a vehicle that meets the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) applicable to school buses. As explained below, the answer is no.
Your letter posed two questions. The first question is :
1. Does a van which has a capacity of carrying 11 persons or more qualify under the federal law as a school bus if purchased by an individual for personal and family purposes and the individual periodically uses the van to transport his or her own children and/or other children to school or school-related activities pursuant to a non-monetary carpooling arrangement?
The answer is no, the van would not be considered a "school bus." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has addressed this issue in an interpretation letter of April 25, 1986, to Mr. Arnold Spencer (copy enclosed). In that letter, NHTSA stated that it does not consider privately-owned family vehicles used by parents to carry their children to or from school to be subject to our school bus safety standards.
In 1974 Congress amended NHTSA's statutory authority by passing the School Bus and Motor Vehicle Safety Amendments (P.L. 93-492). The school bus amendments directed NHTSA to issue standards on specific aspects of school bus safety. The House Committee Report on the school bus amendments stated that "(p)rivate motor vehicles used to carry members of the owner's household or other students in a carpool arrangement" were among the types of motor vehicles not meant to come within the scope of the amendments. (House Report 93-1191, page 42.) Therefore, persons selling new buses or any other type of vehicle for family use are not required to sell complying school buses.
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 may impose its own standards regarding what requirements must be met for vehicles to be sold, licensed and operated in the state. For information on what requirements, if any, California has regarding the sale of vehicles such as the van you describe, please contact California's State Director of Pupil Transportation at the following address:
Mr. Ron Kinney, Supervisor
California Department of Education
560 J Street, Suite 170
Sacramento, CA 95814
Mr. Kinney's telephone number is: (916) 322-4879.
The second question is:
2. If the answer to question No. 1 is yes, what duty does a new car dealer have to question a prospective new van purchaser relative to issues involving carpooling arrangements and what liability does a dealer face if the purchaser advises the dealer that the van will not be used to carpool students but subsequently uses the van for school-related carpooling?
For purposes of NHTSA's laws, since the answer to our first question is no, our answer to the second question is moot. California law should be consulted to see whether there are relevant duties or responsibilities under the laws of your state.
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