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Keeping It Legal Federal Bus Regulations for Churches

Churches that use buses or large vans to transport passengers across state lines may be subject to federal safety regulations for motor coaches and buses. The regulations apply to any interstate transportation of “business private motor carriers of passengers” and “nonbusiness private motor carriers of passengers” as these terms is defined by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

The DOT has stated that churches in general either will be exempt from the federal regulations altogether or will fall within the definition of regulated nonbusiness private motor carriers of passengers.

A church that owns or leases a bus or van will be a “nonbusiness private motor carrier of passengers” if: 1) the bus or van has a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 or more pounds or is designed to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver), and 2) the bus or van is “involved in interstate transportation of passengers,” which basically means taking the bus or van outside of the state in which the church is located.

Local churches are exempt from the regulations if: 1) they do not take the bus or van outside of the state in which the church is located or 2) they do not own or lease a bus or van with a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 or more pounds and do not own or lease a bus or van that is designed to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver).

For example, a local church that is located in a town at a state line and has a van or bus that carries 16 passengers (including the driver) and crosses the state line to transport people to church every Sunday is subject to the federal regulations (regardless of the gross weight of the vehicle or number of passengers it holds). On the other hand, a 20,000-pound bus designed to hold 50 passengers that is never used to cross state lines is exempt from the federal regulations. A 14,000-pound van that is designed to hold 18 passengers and occasionally crosses state lines is subject to the regulations. The same van that is never used to cross state lines is exempt from the regulations.

If the regulations apply to your church, here are the requirements for nonbusiness private motor carriers of passengers.

1. The driver must have a commercial driver’s license (issued by the state).

2. The vehicle must be marked on both side with the motor carrier’s name or trade name; city and state of the church; and motor carrier identification number preceded by “USDOT.”

3. The driver must:
* Be in good health
* Be at least 21 years of age
* Speak and read English well enough to do his or her job and respond to official questions
* Be able to drive the vehicle safely
* Be able to determine whether the vehicle is safely loaded
* Have only one valid driver’s license
* Not have been convicted of motor violations in the past 12 months
* Have a valid medical certificate
* Not be disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle

4. The driver must comply with the following safety requirements:
* Be sure the vehicle is safe and properly working before each trip and must ensure that emergency equipment is in place.
* Buses must stop at all railroad crossings.
* The parking brake must be set when a driver leaves a vehicle unattended.
* Emergency warning devices must be activated in an emergency.
* Headlights must be used from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise (or anytime there is not enough light to see clearly 500 feet away).
* Drivers who are involved in an accident must stop immediately and assist injured persons and take steps to prevent additional accidents at the scene.
* Drivers must not smoke when the vehicle is being fueled.
* Written permission from the owner of the vehicle is necessary for passengers to ride.

5. The vehicle must be properly equipped with adequate lighting devices, reflectors, electrical equipment, brakes, certain specified glazing and window construction, coupling devices and towing methods, emergency equipment, protection against shifting or falling cargo, and appropriate frames, cab and body components, wheels, steering and suspension systems. The vehicle’s fuel system must be maintained to the original manufacturer’s standards, and certain specific miscellaneous parts and accessories may be required.

6. The driver must not drive for more than 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off duty; must not drive after being on duty for 15 hours; must not drive after being on duty more than 60 hours in any seven consecutive days. A driver log is a helpful way to comply with this particular regulation. (Note: The purpose of this requirement is to prevent driver fatigue; be careful about the requirement when your driver is also a professional driver for another organization, because the time is cumulative.) Alcohol may not be consumed during the transport or four hours before transport.

7. The vehicle must be regularly inspected, repaired and maintained, and all vehicle parts and accessories must be in safe and proper working order at all times. Push-out windows, emergency doors and emergency door marking lights in buses must be inspected at least every 90 days. Records must be maintained.

For more information about the regulations, call the federal DOT at the DOT office in your state; the national Federal Motor Carrier Administration office in Washington, D.C. can be reached at (202) 366-4009. Additional information is available, including “A Motor Carrier’s Guide to Improving Highway Safety” at www.fmcsa.dot.gov. You should also check to be sure your own state has no regulations that would affect your church’s use of vans or buses.

Source: The General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church

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