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Van Rollover

Apr 15, 2002 | Department of Transportation

Jeffrey Runge, MD, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today reissued a cautionary warning to users of 15-passenger vans because of an increased rollover risk under certain conditions. A similar warning was issued in 2001.

The agency also issued a new consumer flyer for 15-passenger van users. A copy of the flyer can be downloaded from the NHTSA website:

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

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.

Because of these risks, it is important that 15-passenger vans be operated by experienced drivers. A person transporting 16 or more people for commercial purposes is required to have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL), which requires certain specialized knowledge and driving skills. Although the drivers of these private-use vehicles are not required to possess a CDL, they should still understand and be familiar with the handling characteristics of these vans, especially when the vehicle is fully loaded.

A new NHTSA analysis reinforces the value of seat belts. Eighty percent of those who died nationwide in 15-passenger van rollovers in 2000 were not buckled up. Wearing seat belts dramatically increases the chances of survival during a rollover crash. In fatal single-vehicle rollovers involving 15-passenger vans over the past decade, 92 percent of belted occupants survived compared to 23 percent for unbelted occupants. NHTSA urges that institutions using 15-passenger vans require seat belt use at all times.

NHTSA is reissuing this advisory to specifically alert summertime users of 15-passenger vans. The summer of 2001 saw several tragic rollover crashes involving religious groups on trips. In the past, a number of rollover crashes involved 15-passenger vans loaded with college students (often driven by a fellow student rather than a professional driver).

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. NHTSA also is considering the potential benefits of an additional warning label about rollover and seat belt use that would be visible to the driver and passengers of 15-passenger vans, respectively.

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