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Receipt of Petitions for Temporary Exemption From Shoulder Belt Requirement for Side-Facing Seats on Motorcoaches

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation (DOT).


Notice of receipt of petitions for temporary exemption; request for comment.


NHTSA has received almost identical petitions from 13 final-stage manufacturers of “entertainer-type motorcoaches,” seeking temporary exemption from a shoulder belt requirement of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, “Occupant crash protection,” for side-facing seats on motorcoaches. The petitioners seek to install Type 1 seat belts (lap belt only) at side-facing seating positions, instead of Type 2 seat belts (lap and shoulder belts) required by FMVSS No. 208. Each petitioner states that, absent the requested exemption, it will otherwise be unable to sell a vehicle whose overall level of safety or impact protection is at least equal to that of a nonexempted vehicle. NHTSA is publishing this document to notify the public of the receipt of the petitions and to request comment on them, in accordance with statutory and administrative provisions.


If you would like to comment, you should submit your comment not later than October 19, 2020.

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Deirdre Fujita, Office of the Chief Counsel, NCC-200, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC, 20590. Telephone: 202-366-2992; Fax: 202-366-3820.

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You may submit your comment, identified by the docket number in the heading of this document, by any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • Fax: 1-202-493-2251.
  • Mail: U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590.
  • Hand Delivery: 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal Holidays. To be sure someone is there to help you, please call (202) 366-9322 before coming.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name and docket number.

Note that all comments received will be posted without change to, including any personal information provided. Please see the Privacy Act discussion below. NHTSA will consider all comments received before the close of business on the comment closing date indicated above. To the extent possible, NHTSA will also consider comments filed after the closing date.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to at any time or to 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Federal Holidays. Telephone: 202-366-9826. To be sure someone is there to help you, please call (202) 366-9322 before coming.

Privacy Act: In accordance with 5 U.S.C. 553(c), DOT solicits comments from the public to better inform its rulemaking process. DOT posts these comments, without edit, to, as described in the system of records notice, DOT/ALL-14 FDMS, accessible through​privacy. In order to facilitate comment tracking and response, the agency encourages commenters to provide their name, or the name of their organization; however, submission of names is completely optional. Whether or not commenters identify themselves, all timely comments will be fully considered. If you wish to provide comments containing proprietary or confidential information, please see below.

Confidential Business Information: If you wish to submit any information under a claim of confidentiality, you should submit three copies of your complete submission, including the information you claim to be confidential business information, to the Chief Counsel, NHTSA, at the address given under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. In addition, you should submit a copy, from which you have deleted the claimed confidential business information, to Docket Management at the address given above. When you send a comment containing information claimed to be confidential business information, you should include a cover letter setting forth the information specified in our confidential business information regulation (49 CFR part 512).

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I. Background

a. Statutory Authority for Temporary Exemptions

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act), codified as 49 U.S.C. chapter 301, provides the Secretary of Transportation authority to exempt, on a temporary basis, under specified circumstances, and on terms the Secretary deems appropriate, motor vehicles from a motor vehicle safety standard or bumper standard. This authority and circumstances are set forth in 49 U.S.C. 30113. The Secretary has delegated the authority for implementing this section to NHTSA.

NHTSA established 49 CFR part 555, Temporary Exemption from Motor Vehicle Safety and Bumper Standards, to implement the statutory provisions concerning temporary exemptions. Under Part 555 subpart A, a vehicle manufacturer seeking an exemption must submit a petition for exemption containing specified information. Among other things, the petition must set forth (a) the reasons why granting the exemption would be in the public Start Printed Page 51551interest and consistent with the objectives of the Safety Act, and (b) required information showing that the manufacturer satisfies one of four bases for an exemption.[1] Each petitioner is applying on the basis that compliance with the standard would prevent the manufacturer from selling a motor vehicle with an overall safety level at least equal to the overall safety level of nonexempt vehicles (see 49 CFR 555.6(d)). A manufacturer is eligible for an exemption under this basis only if NHTSA determines the exemption is for not more than 2,500 vehicles to be sold in the U.S. in any 12-month period. An exemption under this basis may be granted for not more than 2 years, but may be renewed upon reapplication.[2]

b. FMVSS No. 208

On November 25, 2013, NHTSA published a final rule amending FMVSS No. 208 to require seat belts for each passenger seating position in all new over-the-road buses (OTRBs) (regardless of gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)), and all other buses with GVWRs greater than 11,793 kilograms (kg) (26,000 pounds (lb)) (with certain exclusions).[3]

In the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) preceding the final rule (75 FR 50958, August 18, 2010) NHTSA proposed to permit manufacturers the option of installing either a Type 1 (lap belt) or a Type 2 (lap and shoulder belt) on side-facing seats.[4] The proposed option was consistent with a provision in FMVSS No. 208 that allows lap belts for side-facing seats on buses with a GVWR of 4,536 kg (10,000 lb) or less. NHTSA proposed the option because the agency was unaware of any demonstrable increase in associated risk of lap belts compared to lap and shoulder belts on side-facing seats. NHTSA believed that [5] “a study commissioned by the European Commission regarding side-facing seats on minibuses and motorcoaches found that due to different seat belt designs, crash modes and a lack of real world data, it cannot be determined whether a lap belt or a lap/shoulder belt would be the most effective.” [6]

However, after the NPRM was published, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2012 was enacted as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), Public Law 112-141 (July 6, 2012). Section 32703(a) of MAP-21 directed the Secretary of Transportation (authority delegated to NHTSA) to “prescribe regulations requiring safety belts to be installed in motorcoaches at each designated seating position.” [7] As MAP-21 defined “safety belt” to mean an integrated lap and shoulder belt, the final rule amended FMVSS No. 208 to require lap and shoulder belts at all designated seating positions, including side-facing seats, on OTRBs.[8]

Even as it did so, however, the agency reiterated its view that “the addition of a shoulder belt at [side-facing seats on light vehicles] is of limited value, given the paucity of data related to side facing seats.” [9] NHTSA also reiterated that there have been concerns expressed in literature in this area about shoulder belts on side-facing seats, noting in the final rule that, although the agency has no direct evidence that shoulder belts may cause serious neck injuries when applied to side-facing seats, there are simulation data indicative of potential carotid artery injury when the neck is loaded by the shoulder belt.[10] The agency also noted that Australian Design Rule ADR 5/04, “Anchorages for Seatbelts” specifically prohibits shoulder belts for side-facing seats.

Given that background, and believing there would be few side-facing seats on OTRBs, NHTSA stated in the November 2013 final rule that manufacturers may petition NHTSA for a temporary exemption under 49 CFR part 555 to install lap belts instead of lap and shoulder belts at side-facing seats.[11] The basis for the petition would be that the applicant is unable to sell a bus whose overall level of safety is at least equal to that of a non-exempted vehicle; i.e., for side-facing seats, lap belts provide at least an equivalent level of safety as lap and shoulder belts.

b. Receipt of Petitions

In accordance with 49 U.S.C. 30113 and the procedures in 49 CFR part 555, 13 final-stage manufacturers of entertainer motorcoaches have submitted individual, mostly identical [12] petitions asking NHTSA for a temporary exemption from the shoulder belt requirement of FMVSS No. 208 for side-facing seats on their vehicles. The petitions seek to install Type 1 seat belts (lap belt only) at side-facing seating positions, instead of Type 2 seat belts (lap and shoulder belts) as required by FMVSS No. 208. The basis for each of the applications is that compliance would prevent the petitioners from selling a motor vehicle with an overall safety level at least equal to the overall safety level of nonexempt vehicles (49 CFR 555.6(d)).[13]

For the convenience of readers, and to facilitate administrative processing of the petitions, NHTSA is issuing this single document to notify the public of and request comment on the petitions rather than publishing separate notices for each petition. Copies of each petition have been placed in the docket listed in the heading of this notice. To view the petitions, go to and enter the docket number in the heading.

The petitioners are listed alphabetically as follows:

All Access Coach Leasing LLC, Amadas Coach, Creative Mobile Interiors, D&S Classic Coach Inc., Farber Specialty Vehicles, Florida Coach, Inc., Geomarc, Inc., Integrity Interiors LLC, Nitetrain Coach Company, Inc., Pioneer Coach Interiors LLC, Roberts Brothers Coach Company, Russell Coachworks LLC, and Ultra Coach Inc.Start Printed Page 51552

c. Brief Overview of the Petitions

Each petitioner states that it typically receives a bus shell [14] from an “original manufacturer” and “customizes the Over-the-Road Bus (`OTRB') to meet the needs of entertainers, politicians, musicians, celebrities and other specialized customers who use motorcoaches as a necessity for their businesses.” Each petitioner states that it “builds out the complete interior” of the bus shell, including—

roof escape hatch; fire suppression systems (interior living space, rear tires, electrical panels, bay storage compartments, and generator); ceiling, side walls and flooring; seating; electrical system, generator, invertor and house batteries; interior lighting; interior entertainment equipment; heating, ventilation and cooling system; galley with potable water, cooking equipment, refrigerators, and storage cabinets; bathroom and showers; and sleeping positions.

Each petitioner states that “fewer than 100 entertainer-type motorcoaches with side-facing seats are manufactured and enter the U.S. market each year.”

Pursuant to 49 CFR 555.6(d), an application must provide “[a] detailed analysis of how the vehicle provides the overall level of safety or impact protection at least equal to that of nonexempt vehicles.”

Each petitioner reiterates the agency's discussion from the November 2013 seat belt final rule, summarized above. The petitioners also state that NHTSA has not conducted testing on the impact or injuries to passengers in side-facing seats in motorcoaches, so “there is no available credible data that supports requiring a Type 2 belt at the side-facing seating positions.” Each petitioner believes that if they comply with the final rule as published, they would be “forced to offer” customers—

a motorcoach with a safety feature that could make the occupants less safe, or certainly at least no more safe, than if the feature was not installed. The current requirement in FMVSS 208 for Type 2 belts at side-facing seating positions in OTRBs makes the applicants unable to sell a motor vehicle whose overall level of safety is equivalent to or exceeds the level of safety of a non-exempted vehicle.

Pursuant to 49 CFR 555.5(b)(7), petitioners must state why granting an exemption allowing it to install Type 1 instead of Type 2 seat belts in side-facing seats would be in the public interest and consistent with the objectives of the Safety Act.

Each petitioner states that granting an exemption to allow manufacturers an option of installing a Type 1 lap belt at side-facing seating positions is consistent with the public interest because “NHTSA's analysis in developing this rule found that such belts presented no demonstrable increase in associated risk.” The petitioners also each state that the final rule requiring Type 2 belts at side-facing seats “was not the result of any change in NHTSA policy or analysis, but rather resulted from an overly broad mandate by Congress for `safety belts to be installed in motorcoaches at each designated seating position.' ” They state that, “based on the existing studies referenced herein and noted in the rulemaking, petitioners assert that Type 1 belts at side-facing seats may provide equivalent or even superior occupant protection than Type 2 belts.”

Petitioners believe that an option for Type 1 belts at side-facing seats is consistent with the objectives of the Safety Act because, they state, § 30111(a) of the Safety Act states that the Secretary shall establish motor vehicle safety standards that “shall be practicable, meet the need for motor vehicle safety, and be stated in objective terms.” Petitioners state that—

an option for Type 1 or Type 2 belts at side-facing seating positions is practicable as it allows the manufacturer to determine the best approach to motor vehicle safety depending on the intended use of the vehicle and its overall design. Additionally, the option to install either Type 1 or Type 2 belts at such locations meets the need for motor vehicle safety as it is consistent with current analysis by NHTSA and the European Commission that indicates no demonstrable difference in risk between the two types of belts when installed in sideways-facing seats. Finally, the option for Type 1 or Type 2 belts at side-facing seat locations provides an objective standard that is easy for manufacturers to understand and meet.

The petitioners indicate that if there is no future NHTSA research, testing or analysis to justify the use of Type 2 belts in side-facing seats in over-the-road buses, they expect to seek to renew the exemption, if granted, at the end of the exemption period.

f. Comment Period

The agency seeks comment from the public on the merits of the petitions requesting a temporary exemption from FMVSS No. 208's shoulder belt requirement for side-facing seats. NHTSA would like to make clear that the petitioners seek to install lap belts at the side-facing seats; they do not seek to be completely exempted from a belt requirement. Further, the petitioners' requests do not pertain to forward-facing designated seating positions on their vehicles. Under FMVSS No. 208, forward-facing seating positions on motorcoaches must have Type 2 lap and shoulder belts, and the petitioners are not raising issues about that requirement for forward-facing seats. After considering public comments and other available information, NHTSA will publish a notice of final action on the petitions in the Federal Register.

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Authority: 49 U.S.C. 30113; delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.95 and 501.4.

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James Clayton Owens,

Deputy Administrator.

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1.  49 CFR 555.5(b)(5) and 555.5(b)(7).

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2.  555.8(b) and 555.8(e).

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3.  78 FR 70416 (November 25, 2013); response to petitions for reconsideration, 81 FR 19902 (April 6, 2016). The final rule became effective November 28, 2016 for buses manufactured in a single stage, and a year later for buses manufactured in more than one stage.

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4.  75 FR at 50971.

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5.  75 FR at 50971-50972.

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7.  MAP-21 states at § 32702(6) that “the term `motorcoach' has the meaning given the term `over-the-road bus' in section 3038(a)(3) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (49 U.S.C. 5310 note), but does not include a bus used in public transportation provided by, or on behalf of, a public transportation agency; or a school bus, including a multifunction school activity bus.” Section 3038(a)(3) (49 U.S.C. 5310 note) states: “The term `over-the-road bus' means a bus characterized by an elevated passenger deck located over a baggage compartment.”

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8.  For side-facing seats on buses other than OTRBs, in the final rule NHTSA permitted either lap or lap/shoulder belts at the manufacturer's option.

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9.  78 FR at 70448, quoting from the agency's Anton's Law final rule which required lap/shoulder belts in forward-facing rear seating positions of light vehicles, 59 FR 70907.

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10.  Editors: Fildes, B., Digges, K., “Occupant Protection in Far Side Crashes,” Monash University Accident Research Center, Report No. 294, April 2010, pg. 57. [Footnote in text.]

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11.  78 FR at 70448.

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12.  The petitions just differed in the name, address and business structure of each petitioner.

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13.  The petitions are related to a petition for temporary exemption NHTSA received from Hemphill Brothers Leasing Company, LLC (Hemphill) on the same shoulder belt requirement of FMVSS No. 208 for side-facing seats on entertainer buses. (Notice of receipt of petition, 84 FR 11735 (March 28, 2019); notice of grant of petition, 84 FR 69966 (November 14, 2019).) In its original petition, Hemphill stated that 39 “other petitioners” were covered by it. After NHTSA noted that the Safety Act and NHTSA's procedures did not clearly allow bundling such petitions (84 FR at 11738), the other manufacturers submitted individual petitions. Originally, 41 manufacturers submitted petitions, but later all but 13 withdrew their petitions. Today's notice pertains to those 13 remaining petitions.

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14.  The petitions describe the bus as generally containing the following components: exterior frame; driver's seat; dash cluster, speedometer, emissions light and emissions diagnosis connector; exterior lighting, headlights, marker lights, turn signals lights, and brake lights; exterior glass, windshield and side lights with emergency exits; windshield wiper system; braking system; tires, tire pressure monitoring system and suspension; and engine and transmission.

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[FR Doc. 2020-18214 Filed 8-19-20; 8:45 am]