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

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

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

James Clayton Owens
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
20 August 2020


[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 162 (Thursday, August 20, 2020)]
[Notices]
[Pages 51550-51552]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-18214]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2020-0075]


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

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

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

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SUMMARY: 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.

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

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: 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.

ADDRESSES: 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 http://www.regulations.gov. 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 
http://www.regulations.gov, 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 http://www.regulations.gov 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 www.regulations.gov, as 
described in the system of records notice, DOT/ALL-14 FDMS, accessible 
through www.dot.gov/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).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

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

[[Page 51551]]

interest 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\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ 49 CFR 555.5(b)(5) and 555.5(b)(7).
    \2\ 555.8(b) and 555.8(e).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

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\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    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\
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    \4\ 75 FR at 50971.
    \5\ 75 FR at 50971-50972.
    \6\ http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/automotive/projects/safety_consid_long_stg.pdf [Footnote in text.]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    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\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \7\ MAP-21 states at Sec.  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.''
    \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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \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.
    \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.]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \11\ 78 FR at 70448.
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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\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

    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 http://www.regulations.gov 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.

[[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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \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.

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, Sec.  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.

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

James Clayton Owens,
Deputy Administrator.
[FR Doc. 2020-18214 Filed 8-19-20; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-59-P

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