The use of 15-passenger vans by churches, colleges, school systems, daycares, and other community organizations is common. Although convenient, these vans pose a great risk to passengers when proper safety precautions are not followed. Recently, two tragic crashes of 15-passenger vans in Georgia and New York have left 10 dead and 23 injured. The contributing factors in both cases were tire failure on the vans and the lack of seat belt use by passengers.
While there is a federal law that prohibits selling a 15-passenger van to transport children to and from school, many child care providers own such vans and use them to transport children on field trips. Unlike school buses, these vans are not built to any government standards.
The National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued several warnings against 15-passenger vans. They are inherently dangerous and have a higher rate of rollover under certain conditions. A 15-passenger van does not handle like a passenger vehicle; it requires an experienced driver who has received additional training and operates these vehicles on a regular basis. With its higher center of gravity, the 15-passenger van is more prone to rollover crashes – especially when the tires are improperly inflated or if the van is overloaded. Texas AgriLife Extension agent, Carolyn McDowell, reminds owners and operators that by taking precautions, needless deaths and injuries in these vans may be prevented.
The van should never carry more than 15 passengers, and special attention needs to be given to tire maintenance since improperly inflated tires make these vans more prone to rollovers. Studies show that nearly three-fourths of 15-passeger vans have improperly inflated tires. Make sure the correct size/capacity E-series commercial tires are used and that tire pressure is checked on a regular, weekly basis.
While seat belts are a proven way to reduce injuries and deaths, particularly in rollover crashes, many passengers in these vans do not buckle up. An unrestrained occupant in a 15-passenger van involved in a single-vehicle crash is approximately three times as likely to be killed as a restrained occupant. It is important that all occupants wear seat belts at all times when the vehicle is moving.
Fortunately, the seat belt law as well as the child safety seat law in Texas now covers occupants in 15-passenger vans. Before the September 2009 change in the law, these passengers were exempt from wearing seat belts. However, many 15-passenger vans do not have lap/shoulder belts in all positions, which poses a problem for adults as well as children. Children, who have outgrown conventional harness seats, need to be in booster seats that require lap/shoulder belts. Higher harness weight seats can be used in these situations.
Owners and operators of 15-passenger vans can increase their safety by following these safety tips from NHTSA:
Keep your passenger load light.
NHTSA research has shown that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to more than 10. In fact, 15-passenger vans (with 10 or more occupants) had a rollover rate in single-vehicle crashes that is nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded.
Check your van’s tire pressure frequently
– at least once a week. A just-released NHTSA study found that 74 percent of all 15-passenger vans had improperly inflated tires. By contrast, 39 percent of passenger cars had improperly inflated tires. Improperly inflated tires can change handling characteristics, increasing the prospect of a rollover crash in 15-passenger vans.
Require all occupants to use their seat belts or the appropriate child restraint.
Nearly 80 percent of those who have died nationwide in 15-passenger vans were not buckled up. Wearing seat belts dramatically increases the chances of survival during a rollover crash.
If at all possible, seat passengers and place cargo forward of the rear axle – and avoid placing any loads on the roof.
By following these guidelines, you’ll lower the vehicle’s center of gravity and lower the chance of a rollover crash.
Be mindful of speed and road conditions.
The analysis of 15-passenger van crashes also shows that the risk of rollover increases significantly at speeds over 50 miles per hour and on curved roads.
Only qualified drivers should be behind the wheel.
Special training and experience are required to properly operate a 15-passenger van. Make sure your driver or drivers have both – and only operate these vehicles when well rested and fully alert.
Source: safercar.gov,15-Passenger Van Safety
For further information on staying safe in 15-passenger vans, visit http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Shoppers/Resources/15-Passenger+Van+Safety.