The Honorable Phil English
U.S. House of Representatives
310 French Street, Suite 107
Erie, PA 16507

Dear Congressman English:

Thank you for your letter on behalf of your constituent, Mr. Gary New of New Car Rental in Erie, who asks about this agency's school bus regulations. Your letter has been referred to my office for reply.

Mr. New wishes to know whether he can rent 15-passenger vans to schools to transport students to sports events. As explained below, Federal law permits the lease of a van on a one-time or very occasional basis. However, because States have the authority to regulate the use of vehicles, Mr. New should contact Pennsylvania officials to see if State law would permit the lease of the vans.

By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles. Our statute at 49 U.S.C. 30112 requires any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all applicable 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. Our statute defines a "school bus" as 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. Therefore, a 15-passenger van that is likely to be used significantly to transport students is a "school bus."

If the new van is sold or leased to transport pupils (e.g., leased on a regular or long-term basis to a school), the vehicle must meet NHTSA's school bus standards. Conventional 15-passenger vans cannot be certified as doing so, and thus cannot be sold or leased, as new vehicles, to carry students on a regular basis.

However, a one-time or very occasional rental would be permitted. Because such use would not constitute "significant use" as a school vehicle, the van would not be a "school bus" and thus may be leased to the school for the special event.

The requirement to sell or lease complying school buses applies only to new vehicles. If a school wishes to buy a used 15-passenger van or enter into a long-term lease, NHTSA would not require the seller or lessor to sell or lease a school bus. However, NHTSA believes that school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country, and therefore strongly recommends that all buses that are used to transport school children be certified as meeting NHTSA's school bus safety standards. Further, using 15-passenger vans that do not meet the school bus standards to transport students could result in increased liability in the event of a crash. Since such liability would be determined by State law, Mr. New may wish to consult with his attorney and insurance carrier for advice on this issue.

I hope this information will assist you in responding to your constituent's concerns. I have enclosed a question-and-answer sheet on "Dealer's 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