NHTSA Proposes New School Bus Category

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today proposed a new subcategory of small school buses for use in transporting children in trips other than to and from school.

By creating this new class of school bus, NHTSA intends to provide schools, day care centers and other institutions with a safer alternative to 15-passenger vans. NHTSA in April issued a consumer advisory warning of the rollover risk associated with fully loaded vans.

"This regulation will allow institutions to take advantage of the safety benefits associated with school buses, which are, by far, the safest means of transporting our children," said Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., NHTSA administrator.

Under existing federal requirements, dealers cannot sell a vehicle for the purpose of transporting school-age students to or from school or related events unless it meets the Federal motor vehicle safety standards for school buses. Currently, all school buses must be equipped with crash avoidance devices designed to control traffic (i.e., flashing lights and stop arms).

NHTSA’s proposed subcategory of school buses, the “multifunction school activity bus”(MFSAB) would be defined as a school bus with a gross vehicle weight rating of 15,000 pounds or less sold for purposes that do not include transportation between home and school for students from kindergarten through Grade 12. These multifunction buses would be exempt from the traffic control requirements.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Annette Sandberg announced the proposal Friday at the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services annual meeting in Greensboro, NC.

NHTSA noted that in June 1999 the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the 50 states and the District of Columbia require that all vehicles carrying more than 10 passengers (buses) and transporting children to and from school and school related activities, including, but not limited to, Head Start programs and day care centers, meet the school bus structural standards and enact regulatory measures to enforce compliance with the revised statutes.

NHTSA believes that if finalized, this rule would make it easier for institutions with the responsibility for transporting children to use vehicles that provide a higher level of safety than fully loaded large passenger vans.

Comments may be submitted in writing to: Docket Management, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC, 20590. Alternatively, comments may be submitted electronically on the Department's docket management system web site at http://dms.dot.gov/. Those wishing to comment should click on "Help & Information" or "Help/Info" to view instructions for filing comments electronically. Regardless of submission method, it is necessary to cite the docket number, NHTSA-2002-13704. Comments should be sent to the DOT Docket by Jan. 3, 2003.

The complete NPRM is available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/rulings/buspedsafety/SchoolActtivityBus.html and was posted Friday at the Federal Register

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