15-passenger vans are a major safety concern

posted on:
January 2, 2003

author:
Jere Beasley

We know that 15 passenger vans have been involved in numerous fatal rollovers across the country. In June the NTSB urged schools to use buses instead of 15 passenger vans. This warning was prompted by a study of school van crashes that killed 8 children and injured 36 others. Since 1999, the NTSB has studied at least 10 more rollovers that killed 63 people and injured 65 more, including church groups and college sports teams.

In April 2001, federal officials issued a warning after a study found that the vans are three times more likely to roll over when carrying 10 or more people. These vans are rolling death traps and unfortunately most folks don’t know about it. The more the vans are loaded, the more likely they are to roll over. The vans are involved in a disproportionate number of single-vehicle crashes involving rollovers when compared to other passenger vehicles. Between 1990 and 2000, 864 occupants of these vans died in crashes, 424 of them in single-vehicle rollover crashes. From 1991 to 2000, 33 percent of passenger vehicles involved in single-vehicle fatal accidents experienced a rollover compared to 52 percent for 15 passenger vans. Also, 81 percent of all 15 passenger van occupant fatalities occurred in a single vehicle rollover accidents. Further, the rollover rate for 15 passenger vans triples when the vans are loaded with 10 or more people, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

When the NTSB issued its April warning, it was the first some van owners had heard about the problem. However, it certainly wasn’t news to auto manufacturers, who have known of the instability problem for years, according to company documents. Instead of working to solve the problem, the manufacturers have deliberately chosen not to even address the problem. They clearly have hidden the problem from the public.

Dangerous vans have fallen through the cracks

The potential for rollovers becomes much greater when the vans are loaded with more people and luggage. In other words, the more 15 passenger vans are used for their intended purpose, the more deadly they become.

Originally built to transport cargo, automakers cheaply converted the vans to allow them to carry passengers. Unfortunately, the industry didn’t add the safety features needed for carrying people. Since federal safety regulators have done nothing about this, the van has been allowed to fall through the regulatory cracks. The van is classified as a bus but does not have to meet safety rules pertaining to school buses. This is because it doesn’t regularly transport children. The vans don’t carry more than 16 people, so their drivers don’t have to obtain commercial drivers licenses. Further, because they are considered buses, the vans don’t have to meet the same safety requirements as sport utility vehicles and mini-vans.

As a result of all this, the vans lack critical crash safety features. Their roofs can crush easily in rollover crashes because they don’t have to meet any roof crush standard. When these vans roll, belts attached to the roof fail to work. They don’t have to comply with any rules relating to head restraints which help ensure people’s necks don’t snap back in crashes. Neither do the vans have to meet any standard requiring the doors to remain firmly in place during a crash. Side impact requirements for the vans are minimal.

Much has been written about how bad the vans are. Unfortunately, very little has been said about how to remedy the problem. Installing dual rear wheels on these vans, which have become notorious for their propensity to roll over when loaded with people and cargo, would effectively stabilize the vehicles.

The industry should either fix the vans or quit selling them altogether. Until the vans can be redesigned, dual rear wheels will clearly improve their performance and manufacturers should install them immediately. This option has existed for years and is available.

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