Don’t Overload 15-Passenger Vans, NHTSA Warns

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is warning consumers not to overload 15-passenger vans. The announcement—not the first of its kind by the Administration—followed its research that revealed that overloading these vehicles increases rollover risks and creates other safety issues.

Occupational Health & Safety Online (OHS Online) also noted that the NHTSA research indicated that overloading 15-passenger vans makes those vehicles more unstable when attempting to handle maneuvers. The NHTSA issued its warning as the spring driving season starts and to remind colleges, church groups, and other 15-passenger van users to ensure they take specific safety steps to help keep drivers and passengers safe.

Because of the problem with 15-passenger vans and their particular sensitivity to loading, the NHTSA issued a number of safety tips, wrote OHS Online. Also, tire pressure is variable on the front and rear tires used in 15-passenger vans; therefore, the NHTSA urges users of 15-passenger vans to ensure the vehicles are properly inflated before every trip. Because tires degrade over time, the NHTSA also recommends that spare tires never be used to replace worn tires, adding that many tire makers recommend disposing tires older than 10 years, said OHS Online.

The NHTSA issued the following are safety tips for anyone planning a trip in a 15-passenger van:

  • Never overload a 15-passenger van.
  • Always buckle up for every trip.
  • If you own a 15-passenger van, ensure the vehicle is regularly maintained.
  • Prior to every trip, drivers should check tires for proper inflation and ensure there are no signs of wear or damage. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information is printed on the door pillar and is available in the vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Owners should ensure suspension and steering components are inspected in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommended schedule; should replace or repair these parts, as necessary; should ensure that vehicles are equipped with properly sized and load-rated tires; and should ensure drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van.

This is not the first time we’ve discussed the issue with 15-passenger vans. We previously wrote that the NHTSA issued another advisory for these vehicles. That advisory—not the first—followed two fatal rollover crashes in Georgia and New York in the same month in 2010. The prior NHTSA alert noted that schools should not use 15-passenger vans for transporting school children, as they do not provide the same level of safety as school buses. As a matter-of-fact, it is against federal law for schools to buy new 15-passenger vans for school transportation purposes.

Recent NHTSA research reveals that the risk of a rollover crash is greatly increased when 10 or more people ride in a 15-passenger van because passenger weight raises the vehicle’s center of gravity and causes it to shift rearward, rendering the van more susceptible to rollover. The increased weight also causes the van to handle differently from other commonly driven passenger vehicles in that it becomes more difficult to control overloaded 15-passenger vans in an emergency situation. Placing any load on the roof also raises the center of gravity and increases the likelihood of a rollover, the NHTSA said.

Since 2001, the NHTSA has issued a steady string of advisories regarding 15-passenger vans. Though manufacturers have made modifications—such as electronic stability control and rear-seat shoulder-lap belts—to newer models, older models are still on the roads. According to the NHTSA, as of July 1, 2007 there were about 564,000 15-passenger vans registered in the US; only 7% of the fleet were newer models manufactured after 2004.

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