Mrs. Alice Collins 703 Cohassett Ave. Lake Wales
FL 33853;

"Dear Mrs. Collins: This is a response to your letter of January 15 1988. I apologize for the delay in responding to your letter. In your letter, you described yourself as a parent of school-age children, and as a volunteer who drives children to school-related activities in your 1986 Plymouth Voyager mini-van. You stated that in the 1986-1987 school year, the U.S. Department of Transportation decided that Voyager Mini-Vans were 'unsafe.' You go on to say that 'the classification of M.P.V. was used on all mini-vans,' and suggest that it is a mistake to characterize your Voyager as a multipurpose passenger vehicle (MPV) because it is more like a passenger car than a truck. You concluded by asking us to change the decision that the Plymouth Voyager mini-van is unsafe. You raised other concerns in telephone conversations with Joan Tilghman, a member of my staff. First, I will address the request in your letter that the Department change what you believe is a decision concerning the safety of your vehicle. Then, I will address the matters you raised in conversations with Ms. Tilghman. Let me begin by assuring you that the agency has never stated that the Plymouth Voyager is 'unsafe.' Except in the context of a specific enforcement proceeding, NHTSA does not make blanket determinations that vehicles are 'safe' or 'unsafe.' Instead, we establish safety standards, and manufacturers must certify that each of their vehicles complies with all applicable standards. If we determine that a group of vehicles fails to comply with an applicable standard, or that a group of vehicles contains a defect related to motor vehicle safety, we order the manufacturer to recall the vehicles. Again, we make these determinations only in the context of an enforcement proceeding. There has been no such proceeding with respect to the 1986 Plymouth Voyager. With respect to your suggestion that it was a mistake to classify the Voyager as an MPV, it is the manufacturer's responsibility to determine, in the first instance, what a vehicle's classification should be. Chyrsler has classified the Voyager as an MPV, and so must certify that the Voyager meets all Federal safety standards applicable to that vehicle class. We have no information which suggests that Chrysler's classification of the Voyager is incorrect under our classification criteria. In your conversations with Ms. Tilghman, you explained that the Tallahassee, Florida school district will not permit parents to transport school children to school-sponsored or school-related events in MPVs, such as the Voyager. However, you stated that the district will permit parents to transport children to school-sponsored or school-related events in passenger cars. You said that the school district is following a recommendation by this agency that Florida school districts not condone transporting children to school-related events in buses other than certified school buses. Your understanding is that NHTSA made this recommendation to the State of Florida in an April 25, 1986 letter to Mr. Arnold Spencer, and repeated the recommendation in an August 7, 1986 letter to Mr. Larry McEntire. I have enclosed copies of both letters for your information. As you see, NHTSA made no such recommendation in either letter. Instead, we explained that we do not regulate the use of vehicles by owners, nor do we require the use of particular vehicles for particular purposes. There is no Federal prohibition against vehicle owners using their own vehicles to transport school children to school-related events. We also noted that the individual States have authority to establish any such regulations, in accordance with the principles of federalism set out in our Constitution. The State of Florida had already made its own decision to adopt and implement this policy before we were contacted by either Mr. Spencer or Mr. McEntire on this subject. Any changes to that policy would also reflect a decision by the State of Florida, not the Federal government. In the letter to Mr. Spencer, we made the observation that Florida's policy that school boards not condone transporting school children in vehicles that are not certified as complying with our school bus safety standards, 'is consistent with our belief that school buses certified to our school bus safety standards are the safest means of transportation for school children.' This was not a recommendation to the State of Florida, but a statement of our belief about the superior safety afforded to school children by buses that are certified as complying with our school bus standards. That belief continues to be supported by data showing that school buses continue to have one of the lowest fatality rates for any class of motor vehicle. Large school buses are the safest form of ground transportation in the United States because the passenger seats are 'compartmentalized' (special seat padding and spacing, and high seat backs), and because of the vehicle's size and weight (which generally reduce an occupant's exposure to injury-threatening crash forces), the drivers' training and experience, and the extra care other motorists usually take when they are near a school bus. I am sending you information on the agency's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). NCAP is an experimental program in which we test light-duty vehicles, MPVs among them, to see how well they perform in a high-speed crash. You will find test results for vehicles that NHTSA has tested over the past few years, including results for the 1984 and 1987 Plymouth Voyager. Also, you will find the agency's April, 1988 report to Congress titled, 'Safety Programs for Light Trucks and Multipurpose Passenger Vehicles.' I hope you find this information helpful. If you have further questions, please contact Joan F. Tilghman, of my staff, at (202) 366-2992. Sincerely, Erika Z. Jones Chief Counsel Enclosures";