Ms. Sharon Conrad
Program Manager, Office of Injury Prevention
Georgia Department of Public Health
2600 Skyland Drive, NE, Room 4D
Atlanta, GA 30319
Dear Ms. Conrad:
This responds to your email dated October, 2012 and subsequent conversations with staff of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), requesting clarification of NHTSA’s requirements regarding the buses used by “childcare centers” to transport children to various locations. You explained to Analiese Marchesseault of my staff that some Georgia childcare centers provide transportation services from the children’s homes to the childcare center only, while some provide transportation from home, the childcare center (for before- or after-school care), and school. You asked specifically about the use of multifunction school activity buses (MFSABs) in these situations.
By way of background, it might be helpful to keep in mind that Federal law regulates the manufacture and sale of new vehicles, but does not regulate vehicle use. Several of your questions ask whether our requirements permit the childcare centers to “use” the buses for transporting the children to the described places. In this letter, we answer your questions about the permissibility of a person selling the new vehicles to the childcare centers. However, since each State has authority to determine how school children must be transported, including the transportation of children by childcare centers, your questions about the permissibility of “using” the vehicles would be answered by State law.
NHTSA is authorized to issue and enforce Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Our statute, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (“Safety Act”), requires any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all applicable FMVSSs.
In the school bus context, under our regulations a “bus” is any vehicle that has a seating capacity of 11 persons or more, including the driver, and a “school bus” is a bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary students to or from school or related events. The Safety Act requires any person selling a new “school bus” (i.e., a bus that meets the school bus definition) to sell a vehicle that meets the FMVSSs applicable to school buses. Under our regulations, a multifunction school activity bus (MFSAB) is defined as “a school bus whose purposes do not include transporting students to or from home or school bus stops.” An MFSAB must meet all the FMVSSs applicable to school buses except those requiring the installation of traffic control devices (flashing lights and stop arms). Under the Safety Act, a person may sell a new MFSAB as long as the bus will not be used to transport students between school and home or school bus stops. If the new bus will be used to transport students between school and home or between school and school bus stops, a “school bus”—not an MFSAB—must be sold.
NHTSA interprets “school” in the context of our school bus regulations not to include daycares, childcare centers, or preschools, including Head Start Programs. Accordingly, NHTSA does not regulate, under our school bus regulations, the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to and from these facilities. We assume in this answer that the center is not also using the vehicles to transport the children to schools.
If the centers are also using the vehicles to transport students to schools, a different outcome can result. Our school bus regulations are applicable to buses that are likely to be “used significantly” to transport students to or from school or related events. Determining whether a vehicle is used significantly for transport to or from school is a case by case determination. For the purpose of responding to your questions, we will assume that the vehicles used to transport students to schools in the situations you describe are “used significantly” for that purpose.
You have asked about the applicable requirements for a number of scenarios involving child care centers transporting children and students. With the above background information in mind, we will address them in turn.
1. First, you ask if NHTSA regulates the sale of vehicles to childcare centers when the purpose of the vehicles would be to transport children from home to childcare centers. As stated above, NHTSA does not consider childcare centers to be schools in this context. Therefore, NHTSA does not regulate the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to such facilities from their homes. In answer to your specific question asking if childcare centers may be sold an MFSAB for transporting children to and from home to the childcare center, our answer is yes.
2. The second scenario you ask about involves significant transportation to or from school. You ask if NHTSA permits the sale of new MFSABs to childcare centers for the purpose of providing transportation between the childcare center (for before- or after-school care), and school. Our answer is that an MFSAB or a school bus may be sold to a childcare center for this purpose.
While childcare centers are not “schools," in the situation you describe they provide transportation “to or from school” and are therefore covered by the Safety Act’s school bus provisions. Your question was addressed in a letter to Lisa Sanford from July 4, 2009, in which NHTSA addressed the issue of a non-school entity providing transportation to after-school activities. We stated that in a situation where buses are used regularly by a non-school entity to take students from school to after-school activities, dealers selling a new bus would be required to sell a bus that met all applicable school bus or MFSAB standards.
Note that this scenario does not involve transporting students to home or school bus stops. Thus, either an MFSAB or a school bus could be sold for transporting students between school and a childcare center. If the bus were transporting students to home or school bus stops, a school bus (and not an MFSAB) must be sold.
3a. Another scenario is a child care center transporting students from home to a childcare center and then to a school, using the same vehicle. NHTSA’s regulations require that a new vehicle sold for this purpose would need to be a school bus because it involves significant use of the bus for transporting students to school. Further, a school bus and not an MFSAB must be sold, because an MFSAB is a school bus whose purposes do not include transporting students to or from home or school bus stops. In this scenario, childcare centers are essentially transporting students from school to their homes in the same vehicle, and stopping at the childcare center during that trip. Accordingly, a new MFSAB could not properly be sold to a childcare center for these purposes, because transporting students “to or from home” is involved. A new bus sold to a childcare facility for the purposes of both transporting students to or from school and to or from homes would be required to meet the school bus standards, i.e., a school bus (and not an MFSAB) must be sold.
3b. We reiterate, however, that if a separate vehicle is sold for these two purposes ((1) transporting children between a childcare center and home or school bus stops, and (2) transporting students between a childcare center and school) there is more flexibility regarding the type of vehicle that may be sold. A new MFSAB or school bus may be sold for transporting children solely from childcare centers to school (i.e., there is no transportation to or from home or school bus stops). Additionally, since NHTSA does not regulate, under our school bus regulations, the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to and from childcare centers and non-school facilities, vehicles other than MFSABs or school buses may be sold for those non-school transportation purposes (see above answer to scenario number 1).
4. A fourth scenario involves a childcare center transporting students directly from home to school. A dealer selling a new bus would be required to sell a school bus for this purpose. As discussed above in scenario number 3a, this situation involves significant use of the vehicle for transport to school. It also involves transporting students between school and their homes. An MFSAB is a school bus whose purposes do not include transporting students between school and home or school bus stops. Therefore, a new bus sold to a childcare facility for the purposes of transporting students from school to their homes would be required to meet all of the school bus standards.
In closing, we note also that while NHTSA does not regulate the types of vehicles that may be sold for transporting children to Head Start programs, Head Start has regulations regarding vehicle use for its programs. Head Start programs should consult with the Office of Head Start if they have questions regarding compliance with those requirements.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, you may refer them to Analiese Marchesseault of my staff (202-366-1723).
O. Kevin Vincent
571.3 VSA School Buses
 49 U.S.C. §§ 30101 et seq.
 49 CFR § 571.3, 49 U.S.C. § 30125(a)(1).
 49 U.S.C. § 30112(a).
 49 CFR § 571.3.
 49 CFR § 571.131 ¶ S3.
 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Definition of Multifunction School Activity Bus, 68 Fed. Reg. 44,892, 44,893 (July 31, 2003).
 A letter from this office to Dennis Seavey offers some perspective (May 20, 1999), see http://isearch.nhtsa.gov/files/19891.drn.html (last accessed Dec. 20, 2012) (copy enclosed). In that letter we stated we would consider use of a vehicle two times per week regularly to transport students to or from school to be significant use.
 Letter to Lisa M. Sanford, July 24, 2009, available at http://isearch.nhtsa.gov/files/09-000883drn%20sanford%20mar%2025%2009.htm (last visited October 16, 2012) (copy enclosed).