Nonconforming Vehicles and School Bus Seats
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responsible for establishing Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries that result from motor vehicle crashes.
Because NHTSA believes school buses should be as safe as possible, we have established minimum safety standards for school buses that are above and beyond those for regular buses. Consistent with the 1974 Congressional mandate for school bus safety, NHTSA believes safety standards requiring higher levels of safety performance for school buses are appropriate.
Use of Nonconforming Vehicles for School Transportation
Federal requirements regulate new vehicles that carry 11 or more people, which are sold for transporting students to or from school or school-related events. Those vehicles are required to meet all FMVSSs for school buses. The FMVSSs applicable to school buses require that school buses have stop arms along with many other safety features over and above those of other passenger vehicles. Under 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., a vehicle is regarded as being sold for use as a school bus if, at the time of sale, it is evident that the vehicle is likely to be significantly used to transport students to or from school or school-related events. This statute applies to school buses sold to public and parochial schools. For example, a dealer selling a new 15-passenger van to be used for school transportation must ensure that the van is certified as meeting our school bus FMVSSs.
Federal regulations do not prohibit the use of vans by schools, but require any van (with a capacity of more than 10) sold or leased for use as a school bus to meet the safety standards applicable to school buses. Federal regulations apply only to the manufacture and sale/lease of new vehicles. Each State prescribes its own regulations that apply to the use of any vehicle that is used to transport students.
The Number of People Who Can Safely Sit on a School Bus Seat
Federal regulation does not specify the number of people who can sit on a school bus seat. The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus. The manufacturers use this number, which is based on sitting three small elementary school students per typical 39-inch school bus seat, in the calculations for determining the gross vehicle weight rating and the number of emergency exits. School transportation providers generally determine the number of people they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally, they fit three smaller elementary school students or two adult high school students into a typical 39-inch school bus seat.
NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 222, "School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection" requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection so that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs. Persons not sitting or sitting partially outside of the school bus seats will not be afforded the occupant protection provided by the school bus seats.