Frequently Asked Questions

QUESTION: What is a school bus?
Under federal law, any motor vehicle designed to carry more than 10 persons is classified as a bus. A bus is classified as a school bus if it is used, or intended for use, in transporting students to and from school or school-related activities. At the direction of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only has authority over the manufacture and first sale of a motor vehicle. After a vehicle is sold, only state and local governments can regulate the use of motor vehicles.

QUESTION: What is a school-related event?
A school-related event is any activity sponsored by a school, whether on or off the school grounds, including sports events, band concerts, field trips, and competitions such as debate or chess tournaments.

QUESTION: To whom do the FMVSSs apply?
NHTSA’s statutory authority extends to any person selling or offering for sale or lease a new motor vehicle. It is a violation of Federal law for any person knowingly to sell or lease a new bus for use as a school bus if the bus does not meet all school bus FMVSSs. The law provides substantial civil penalties for selling a new non-school bus for use as a school bus.

QUESTION: Do the FMVSSs apply to the purchaser as well as the seller?
YES. NHTSA’s laws regulate the manufacture and sale of motor vehicles, not the use of vehicles. However, The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act states that all public school systems are prohibited from purchasing or leasing 11-15 passenger vans for use in any form of pupil transportation. This closed the loop-hole that existed in prior legislation that regulated the sale of vans but not the purchase of such vehicles.

QUESTION: How can I tell if a bus meets NHTSA’s school bus safety standards?
Look for the certification label on the bus, usually located on the door near the driver’s seat. If the bus meets NHTSA’s school bus standards, it states: “This vehicle conforms to all applicable U.S. Federal motor vehicle safety standards in effect on the date of manufacture shown above” and states “school bus” (not simply “bus”) as the vehicle classification.

QUESTION: Do the school bus requirements apply to dealers that sell new buses to day care centers and other institutions?
Yes, if the dealer knows that the buses will be used to transport children between the institution and a school. NHTSA looks at the purpose for which the new bus is sold, not at the buyer’s status. If a dealer knows the new bus is sold for the purpose of transporting pre-primary, primary, or secondary school students, new buses sold or leased to the institution must meet NHTSA’s school bus FMVSSs.

QUESTION: Are dealers required to sell school buses to colleges?
No. The school bus requirements do not apply to sales for the purpose of transporting post-secondary school students such as college students, adult education participants, or post-high school vocational students.

QUESTION: Does Federal law require school buses to be yellow?
No. State and local governments establish policy for school bus color. However, NHTSA provides recommendations to the States on operational aspects of school bus and pupil transportation safety programs, in the form of Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 17, Pupil Transportation Policy. Among other matters, Guideline 17 recommends that school buses be yellow.

QUESTION: Can the States change Federal requirements?
No. A State may not permit the sale of a new non-school bus for pupil transportation when the sale of the vehicle would be impermissible under Federal law.

QUESTION: Is a school or school district liable for not using school buses?
Possibly. As stated above, Federal laws do not extend to the use of school buses. However, a school or school district may be liable for damages for not using a school bus to transport students and a crash occurs in which students are killed or injured. This is a question of State law, however, so schools or school districts should consult their attorneys or insurance carriers on this question.

QUESTION: How safe are school buses compared to other motor vehicles?
School buses are approximately seven times safer than passenger cars or light trucks. The school bus occupant fatality rate of 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is considerably lower than the fatality rates for passenger cars or light trucks (1.44 per 100 million VMT). The relative safety of school buses was addressed in 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in “The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment.” It found that there are about 815 fatalities related to school transportation per year. Only 2 percent are associated with official school transportation, compared to 22 percent due to walking/bicycling to or from school, and 75 percent from passenger car transportation to or from school.

QUESTION: Is the State Tort Claims Act applicable if a yellow school bus travels out-of-state, either as part of its route or for any other purpose, and an accident occurs in which the driver is at fault?
NO. The North Carolina Industrial Commission has jurisdiction to hear and determine tort claims against any county or city board of education resulting from an alleged negligent act of the driver in the state of North Carolina. If an accident occurs in another state there is no guaranteed protection under the Tort Claims Act. The school board and the driver could be liable if they are sued in an out-of-state court and are subject to the laws of that state’s court system. It is recommended that if a yellow school bus is taken out of state, the LEA should purchase a supplemental insurance policy to cover instances when this occurs. The North Carolina School Board Association offers such coverage for school districts that purchase their vehicle fleet insurance.