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15-Passenger Vans Prone to Roll Over

Apr 9, 2001 |

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is warning that 15-passenger vans widely used by schools and churches present a dramatically increased rollover risk when fully loaded and should be driven only by trained, experienced drivers.

NHTSA said that while 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that is similar to other light trucks and vans when carrying a few passengers, the risk of rollover increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to ten or more.

In fact, 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate in single vehicle crashes that was nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded.

NHTSA's analysis revealed that loading the 15-passenger van causes the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward, increasing the likelihood of rollover. The shift in the center of gravity will also increase the potential for loss of control in panic maneuvers.

The rare consumer advisory was prompted by a number of accidents involving college sports teams. Four members of the track team of Prairie View A&M University in Texas were killed and seven injured when their van rolled over on the way to a meet last year. Other serious rollovers involved the Wisconsin-Oshkosh swim team, the DePaul women's track team and the Kenyon College swim team.

While federal law prohibits the sale of 15-passenger vans for the school-related transport of high school age and younger students, no such prohibition exists for vehicles to transport college students or other passengers.

Also, the vans are often used for high school groups despite the federal ban. Last summer, a 2000 Dodge van carrying 10 students from Long Island's Chaminade High School veered off an Arizona highway near the Grand Canyon and overturned, killing one student and the teacher who was driving the van.

Police said the van was traveling north on Route 64, a narrow two-lane strip of highway leading to the Grand Canyon, when it ran off the pavement. Brother Lawrence John Zarzycki overcorrected and the van overturned, police said. The students had been on an academic tour of national historic sites at the time of the accident.

NHTSA's analysis reinforces the value of seat belts. Eighty percent of those nationwide who died last year in single vehicle rollovers last year were not buckled up. Wearing seat belts dramatically increases the chances of survival during a rollover crash. NHTSA urges that institutions using 15-passenger vans require seat belt use at all times.

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