NHTSA Issues 15-Passenger Van Safety Advisory

US regulators have issued yet another advisory for 15-passenger vans. The alert was issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following two fatal rollover crashes in Georgia and New York in the past month.

The New York accident killed six and injured eight members of a Bronx church. The victims were on their way to a church event in Schenectady, New York when the left rear tire on the 1997 Ford Econoline van they were riding in failed on the New York Thruway. The van rolled over, and the occupants were ejected from the vehicle.

Two weeks later, a Georgia pastor and three others were killed when the 1987 Dodge Ram Wagon carrying them to a church revival blew a tire and flipped several times on a highway, ejecting all on board. The van was overloaded with 19 passengers on board when it crashed, four more than its stated capacity.

The new alert was directed toward church groups, other non-profit organizations and colleges that may be keeping older 15-passenger vans in service longer than usual because of tight transportation budget. The 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. It is also against federal law for schools to buy new 15-passenger vans for school transportation purposes.

Recent research by the NHTSA has found that the risk of a rollover crash is greatly increased when 10 or more people ride in a 15-passenger van. This increased risk occurs because the passenger weight raises the vehicle’s center of gravity and causes it to shift rearward. As a result, the van has less resistance to rollover and handles differently from other commonly driven passenger vehicles, making it more difficult to control 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.

According to the NHTSA, if an organization is using a 15-passenger van, the following precautions should be taken:

• Make sure the vehicle is properly maintained.
• Owners should make sure drivers are fully trained and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van and are properly licensed.
• 15-passenger vans are very sensitive to loading and should not be overloaded under any circumstances. Agency research shows overloading not only increases rollover risk but makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.
• Owners should make sure that properly sized tires are being used on their vehicles.
• Before every trip, drivers should check the tires for proper inflation, and make sure there are no signs of wear. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner’s manual.
• If you are a passenger, make sure you buckle up for every trip.

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, and only 7 percent of the fleet were newer models manufactured after 2004.

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