Federal Government Issues New 15-Passenger Van Safety Rules

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently issued new rules

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently issued new rules to improve the safety of “commercial” 9 to 15 passenger vans and small buses that are used in interstate commerce. “These requirements will help improve safety for occupants of these vehicles, which are known to pose serious safety risks,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.

Under the new rules, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) will apply to all companies operating commercial motor vehicles (CMV) designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) in interstate commerce for “direct compensation” when the vehicle is operated beyond a 75-mile radius from the location where the driver normally works. Drivers of these vehicles will be required to meet the same physical qualifications and hours-of-service rules as motor coach drivers, except they will not be required by the FMCSA to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or be tested for controlled substances and alcohol. Businesses operating these vehicles will be subject to compliance reviews and the same stringent safety standards used to evaluate other interstate motor carriers. Carriers that receive an “unsatisfactory” safety rating will be prohibited from operating CMVs to transport passengers in interstate commerce. The vehicles will be required to meet the same safety requirements as motor coaches.

Church vans are not subject to these new rules, because they typically do not receive “direct compensation” from passengers. But, pressure is mounting to do more to improve the safety of 15-passenger vans, and so these new rules are not the final word. For now, church leaders should carefully review the feature article entitled “Church Vans” that appeared in the July-August 2002 issue of this newsletter (also available as a special report from the publisher), and follow the recommendations in that article. This is even more urgent now that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation has publicly declared that 15-passenger vans “are known to pose serious safety risks.”

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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