Mr. Emad Louis
8300 Snow Egret Way
Fort Worth, TX 76118
Dear Mr. Louis:
This responds to your September 27, 2017 email asking about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 217, Bus emergency exits and window retention and release. As we understand your email, you are asking whether the standard allows a certain design configuration on a bus that is over 10,000 pounds and not a school bus.
In your email, you explain that the bus you purchased has a cargo net that can be pulled and secured across a portion of the back of the bus to allow the back of the bus to be used for storage. You state that, behind the cargo net, there are four foldaway seats that are flipped up when the area is used for storage. As we understand your questions, you ask whether, with this bus design, the standard permits a manufacturer to install a roof exit in lieu of a rear exit to meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 217 and whether it is permissible to have a rear door that is not designated and labeled “emergency exit.” Our answer to both questions is yes.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act), 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, to issue FMVSSs that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment and does not determine whether a product conforms to the FMVSSs outside of an agency compliance proceeding. Instead, the Safety Act requires manufacturers to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable FMVSSs that are in effect on the date of manufacture. NHTSA also investigates safety-related defects.
In your email, you provided NHTSA with an email exchange that occurred in June 2016 between the bus manufacturer, Glaval Bus (Glaval), and an employee of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). In his response, the FTA employee stated that FTA and NHTSA agreed with Glaval’s interpretation of FMVSS No. 217.
NHTSA has been unable to confirm any communication between FTA and NHTSA. We point out, however, that official interpretations of legal requirements under this agency’s statutes, standards, and regulations are issued only by this office and only in writing. We apologize for any confusion that statement may have caused.
Your first question asks whether NHTSA would permit the installation of a roof emergency exit instead of a rear emergency exit in your bus that has a cargo net that can portion off part of the rear of the bus for use as a storage area.
FMVSS No. 217 permits a bus that is over 10,000 pounds and not a school bus (non-school bus) to meet the requirement for the provision of emergency exits by either meeting the requirements of S5.2.2 or S5.2.3. We assume from the facts you provide that Glaval intended for the bus to meet the requirements in S5.2.2, which applies to buses other than school buses. In relevant part, S22.214.171.124 states that “[w]hen the bus configuration precludes installation of an accessible rear exit, a roof exit that meet the requirements of S5.3 through S5.5 when the bus is overturned on either side, with the occupant standing facing the exit, shall be provided in the rear half of the bus.”
The purpose of S126.96.36.199’s requirement to provide a rear exit is to ensure emergency egress in the case of a rollover. To accommodate bus designs that preclude the installation of an accessible rear emergency exit door or window, FMVSS No. 217 allows the installation of a roof emergency exit in lieu of a rear emergency exit door or window. However, the agency emphasizes that the alternative roof exit is only permitted when the bus design precludes installation of an accessible rear exit.
An issue raised by your question is: When does a bus configuration “preclude” installation of an accessible rear exit? Clearly, buses with a rear-engine design preclude installation of an accessible rear exit. NHTSA has also allowed the installation of a roof emergency exit in lieu of a rear emergency exit when a bus had a permanent storage cage that blocked access to the rear emergency exit.
While the past interpretations of what designs would preclude the installation of a rear exits have dealt with permanent structures or vehicle features, NHTSA does not require the configuration to be permanent to “preclude” installation of the rear exit. Given that the addition of the cargo net, when “pulled across/installed,” could block passengers’ access to the rear exit door during normal operation and in an emergency, in this circumstance, NHTSA would accept the manufacturer’s determination that the bus configuration precluded the installation of a rear exit. Therefore, based on the facts you presented, the installation of the emergency roof exit in lieu of an emergency rear exit would be allowed.
Your second question asks whether NHTSA would allow your bus to have a rear door that is not designated as an emergency exit. As we state above, a roof emergency exit is permitted to be installed in compliance with S188.8.131.52 in lieu of the rear emergency exit in a bus with the configuration you describe. As long as the bus otherwise complies with FMVSS No. 217, the rear door would not be required to be designated and labeled as an emergency exit.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Callie Roach of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
Ref: FMVSS No. 217
 Based on your letter and your conversations with Ms. Roach of my staff, we understand that while you currently own the bus in question, you are requesting NHTSA to interpret FMVSS No. 217 as it would have applied to the vehicle on the date of its manufacture. Therefore, NHTSA will respond to your question as if the manufacturer is asking whether the described bus configuration was permitted under FMVSS No. 217 on the date of the vehicle’s manufacture. As you cite the current regulatory language in your letter, we will assume that, for the purpose of this letter, the requirements that would have applied to the vehicle are the same as those in the current standard.
 S5.2.3 contains requirements for school buses which, at the option of the manufacturer, may be met by a non-school bus to satisfy FMVSS No. 217’s provision of emergency exits requirement.
 Letter to Mr. Timothy A. Kelly (May 30, 1990), found at https://isearch.nhtsa.gov/gm/90/nht90-2.58.html.
 Letter to Ms. Teresa Stillwell (May 21, 2003) found at https://isearch.nhtsa.gov/files/001646drn.html.
 The emergency roof exit must meet the requirements of S5.3 through S5.5 and, as required by S184.108.40.206, must be located in the rear half of the bus.