School Bus Certified vs. Non-conforming Vans

Keep your children safe The federal government and many states have issued regulations and recommendations resulting in sweeping changes in pupil transportation. Because of the safety risks involved, providers who transport children are now required, under certain conditions, to use vehicles certified as School Buses or vehicles meeting School Bus construction standards.

Federal law specifically prohibits the sale of 15-passenger vans for the school-related transport of high school age and younger students. Many states have passed regulations limiting the use of these vans and many institutions have already set deadlines for discontinuing the use of 15-Passenger vans. South Carolina has lead the way with Jacob's Law.

The nation's leading insurer of churches has stated "15-passenger vans are inherently unsafe as currently used by many owners." They highly encourage "all organizations to strongly consider other transportation options."

These non-conforming vans are simply not safe for transporting large groups of people. The rollover risk, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) of 15 Passenger Vans is 35 percent when loaded with 10-15 passengers, and 70 percent when loaded with 16 or more passengers! By comparison, passenger cars have a rollover risk of less than 10 percent.

This video graphically illustrates the dangers of 15 passenger vans:

15-Passenger Van Rollover Report from VanAngels on Vimeo
According to the organization Van Angels, 1,107 people lost their lives in 698 fatal rollovers of 15-passenger vans from 1982 through 2007. These crashes also incapacitatingly injured an additional 1,899 people. A total of 5,855 persons were involved in these accidents as drivers or passengers in the vans, of whom only 282 were uninjured. Because the victims were relatively young, 37,496 premature years of life (before age 70) have been lost in rollovers of 15-passenger vans since 1982.

Replace your van with a safe, 15-passenger bus that meets Federal Safety specifications. Palmetto Bus Sales proudly offers conforming buses from Blue Bird, Mid Bus and Starcraft and we have several models to choose from.

Common Questions

Here are answers to common questions regarding this important safety issue:

What has led to these requirements?
A number of serious accidents, a recent NTSB study and a series of NHTSA interpretation letters have all expanded the scope, and limited the exemptions that previously allowed many providers to escape compliance.

Who must comply?
Public schools, private schools, charter schools, after school programs, Head Start, daycare providers and, in some states, summer camps are all required to comply. At a minimum, we suggest that programs begin to develop a "plan for compliance." Contact Palmetto Bus Sales for more detailed information.

What are the alternatives?
Honestly, no safe alternatives exist. Your program may wish to compromise and provide transportation in nonconforming vehicles. However, these vehicles do not provide the safety of school buses built to meet FMVSS construction standards.

My state does not have a law regarding non-conforming vans vs. school buses. Why should we switch to school bus certified vehicles?
There has been enough information published concerning this issue to put your program at the risk of a huge libility in the event of an accident. Besides, school buses are the safest mode of transportation in the world.

We have heard that school buses are expensive. How can we afford to change to school buses?
Your program cannot afford not to comply - both for the safety of your students and your liability exposure. Some school bus models can be purchased for approximately 25 percent more than the cost of a nonconforming van. Allowable alternative vehicles (AAV) can be purchased for about a 20 percent premium. The largest standard van that can be legally sold or leased has seating for 10 passengers including the driver, providing room for nine students. A small type "A" school bus for a 20 percent premium can seat 20-22 students or 14 high school students. Clearly, it takes two vans, two drivers, and two insurance policies to provide fewer seats than a single school bus. A school bus, when efficiently used, is 80 percent less expensive than the cost of two legally obtained vans.

We recently leased a big van which we now understand is "non-conforming." What are our options?
Since 1974 it has been illegal (Federal law) for a vehicle dealer to sell "non-conforming" vans for the purpose of transporting children to and from school or school related events. The dealer and salesperson are subject to federal, civil, and criminal action. We suggest that you talk to the dealer principal about your discovery and ask him/her to void the contract and accept the vehicle back without charge or for a reasonable settlement. If the dealer is reluctant to cooperate, you may wish to consider notifying the federal authorities.

Other Important Information

There are many other regulations regarding driver licensing, seatbelts, car seats, inspections, Head Start programs and more. Contact Palmetto Bus Sales for more information. Other resources are listed below:

On the Internet

Federal Register
Head Start Program; Final Rule, January 18, 2001, Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 45 CFR Part 1310*

Excellent Reading
  • NTSB Report, "Pupil Transportation in Vehicles not Meeting School Bus Standards." *
  • "Use of Nonconforming Vehicles for School Transportation", by NHSTA.*
  • "Guideline 17 for Safe Transportation of Children in School", by NHSTA. *
  • "Are You Using it Right?", by HNTSA. A pamphlet discussing the proper installation and use of car seats and booster seats. (Available from NHTSA).