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The FMVSS System and School Bus Safety

The modern school bus era has been marked by federal rules, designated “FMVSS” for federal motor vehicle safety standards. These standards are the method by which the federal government regulates the safety of all motor vehicles sold for use in the United States. All vehicle manufacturers, whether they manufacture school buses, trucks, automobiles, motorcycles of other highway vehicles, must comply with the applicable FMVSS regulations. Once a vehicle is sold or leased, regulation of the operation of the vehicle becomes the responsibility of the states.

The era of school bus safety dates back three decades to when the U.S. Congress enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. In that bill Congress established a national program to reduce motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities. It ordered the Highway Safety Bureau, then part of the Federal Highway Administration, to established a series of motor vehicle safety standards for all motor vehicles.

In 1976, several school bus-specific standards were enacted. They were promulgated through the federal rulemaking process and became effective April 1, 1977.

Readers should note that in 1974 Congress ordered eight school bus standards. The old Highway Safety Bureau, by then renamed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA) developed three new, school bus specific standards–FMVSS 220, FMVSS 221, and FMVSS 222–and amended four existing safety standards–FMVSS 105, FMVSS 111, FMVSS 217 and FMVSS 301–as they apply to school buses. These seven standards are the demarcation point for the term “pre-DOT buses,” which is often heard in context of school bus safety. School buses built prior to the enactment of these standards are referred to as pre-DOT or pre-77 buses, those after as post-DOT buses.

Interestingly, manufactures can built to an FMVSS prior to its effective date but after it is published as a Final Rule in the Federal Register.

Published industry data reveals that less than 10 percent of the 400,000+ yellow buses in school service nationwide are currently of pre-DOT vintage.

The FMVSS system is not static. New motor vehicle safety standards are constantly under review, and, when appropriate, standards are modified or new standards created.

Over the years as new FMVS standards were developed, many of them were written to encompass school buses as well. Today, 34 federal motor vehicle safety standards, out of a total 56 standards, cover the manufacture of school buses. Some of these standards only apply to small school buses, others only to large school buses, and some to all school buses, and in a couple of cases the standard only applies to the driver’s seat in the school bus.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the government established the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations. Due in large measure to the Auto Pact–by which vehicles manufactured in either the U.S. or Canada can be readily shipped between the two countries–the CMVSS were patterned after the U.S. FMVSS system. While there are some differences between the two systems, for the most part they impose similar requirements on school bus manufacturers.

The full text of these regulations can be found in Title 49, Chapter 15, Section 1392 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Included in this section of the stn Home Page is the most recent language of several of the key school bus safety standards.


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