WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new subcategory of school buses — the multifunction school activity bus (MFSAB) — has been given the green light by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A final rule on the new school bus category was published on July 29 and took effect 30 days later.
The MFSAB is defined as a bus that is sold for purposes that do not include transportation between home and school for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Because the bus is not intended for roadside picking up and dropping off of children, it will not be required to have traffic-control devices such as stop arms and flashing yellow and red lights.
Although not required to have traffic-control equipment, the bus must meet all other school bus crashworthiness and post-crash standards.
NHTSA officials say the MFSAB provides a safer alternative to 15-passenger vans used by some schools, Head Start agencies and childcare centers.
“This modification allows institutions to take advantage of the safety benefits associated with school buses, which are by far the safest means of transporting children,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge.
NHTSA officials also believe the new rule will facilitate efforts by the Federal Transit Administration to provide funding to Head Start programs and coordinated transportation providers to purchase the buses. Officials said they expect the buses to be used for coordinated transportation purposes by state and local service agencies, which may, for example, use the buses to transport children from Head Start facilities to school in the morning and to transport the elderly later in the day.
In the final rule published in the Federal Register, NHTSA said it received 48 public comments about the proposal. Most of the comments were favorable; however, the state of Maine asserted that the lack of traffic-control features on the bus could increase potential hazards by creating “a level of complexity . . . without producing a significant offsetting benefit.”
NHTSA agreed with Maine’s assertion that the new category adds greater complexity for school districts, but contends that the final rule makes it easier for transportation providers other than schools or school districts to buy the MFSAB, “which will be a safer transportation alternative to the 15-passenger van and motorcoach bus for use by Head Start programs or senior citizens.”
In its proposed rulemaking, NHTSA suggested a weight limit of 15,000 GVWR for the MFSAB, but removed the limit in the final rule. NHTSA officials said the removal of the weight limit gives transportation providers more options.
NHTSA will not upgrade seat flammability resistance
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has terminated a 15-year-old proposed rulemaking to consider upgrading flammability resistance requirements for school bus seats.
The rulemaking was initiated in response to the 1988 Carrollton, Ky., crash of a church activity bus that resulted in the deaths of 27 passengers. The tragedy was caused by a pickup truck that swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with the activity bus, sparking a fuel-fed fire that spread to the interior of the bus.
Contributing to the severity of the accident was the partial blockage of the rear bench seats that led to the emergency door, which impeded passenger escape. The flammability of the seat cushions was also a factor, NHTSA said.
In its termination notice, NHTSA pointed out that the risks of school bus fires are minimal and that the agency’s 1992 upgrade of emergency exit requirements allows for faster evacuation of school buses.
NHTSA officials also noted that the church activity bus involved in the Carrollton crash was built in 1977, shortly before upgraded federal school bus standards went into effect. Those standards include fuel tank guards and improved access to emergency exits.
NHTSA’s termination notice also mentioned that upgrading the flammability requirements would pose significant additional expense for school bus operators with minimal benefits.