15 Passenger Vans Pose Serious Safety Risks


Federal studies, recently passed laws, and the all-too-frequent word of catastrophic mishaps are causing apprehension about the use of 15-passenger vans by schools and churches. Look at these recent newspaper headlines:

“Big Loads in Big Vans Carry Big Rollover Risks”.
“Seven Killed, Three Hurt When Church Van Flips in California”.
“Church Van Rolls Off Roadway”.

In April 2001, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a study of more than 2,000 of the popular 15-passenger vans that showed the following relationship between load and chances of rollover:

Fewer than 10 passengers: 12.7% may rollover.
Ten and more passengers: 35.4% may rollover.
Sixteen and more passengers: 70% may rollover.

Rollover hazards are dramatically growing as the number of van occupants increases with church and school events. When the van is occupied by 10 or more occupants, the rollover rate is nearly three times that of vans that have fewer passengers. With 15 or more traveling occupants, the risk of a rollover is almost six times greater than if the van had only five occupants.

The NHTSA repeated its 15-passenger van warning in 2002, again in 2004, and then announced additional research in 2005 that reinforced its existing concerns about 15 passenger vans. Contributing factors which came out of the 2005 study focused on improper tire maintenance on 15-passenger vans which stated that 74 percent of all 15-passenger vans had significantly over or underinflated tires by 25 percent or more.

By evaluation, passenger cars have a rollover risk of less than 10%. Combine the increased rollover capability with the lack of seatbelt use, poor driver selection, passenger misconduct, and the lack of side impact protection, and the risks of fatality and serious injury associated with a van accident are great.

It is uncertain how widespread changes will be as a result of this study. The Federal government seems to be serious about their enforcement. In mid-1997, NHTSA took legal action against six automobile dealers it alleges knowingly disobeyed the law by selling vans to school clients for student transportation use.

More pressure is being applied states to conform to the federal law and pass state laws concerning use of the vans. The families of accident victims are applying much of this pressure. Much like the issue several years ago on the use of pre-1977 manufactured school buses, more insurance companies are re-planning their coverage of churches and schools that make use of these vans. Policyholders should expect more information, reports, and possible changes or more strict requirements attached to their coverage.

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