Vehicle Rollover Accidents: 15-Passenger Van Safety Remains an Issue
Surprisingly, the vehicles used by churches, day cares, schools, hotels, and other service providers to the community for transporting large groups of people, children and adults alike, are considered the most dangerous on the road in terms of vehicle rollover accidents. The warnings about 15-passenger van safety, as well as news of serious rollover accidents, continue to raise concern over public safety.
Although they look like regular vans, 15-passenger vans are extended to accommodate additional passengers. When fully loaded, these vans are three times more likely to roll over during an emergency than are other vans. More than 500,000 of these dangerous vehicles are on the road, and millions of passengers who ride in them are unsuspecting of the risks they take.
Since 1990 over 500 deaths and hundreds more serious injuries have occurred as a result of 15-passenger van rollover accidents.
In one such case, four church members died and several others were seriously injured in a Texas 15-passenger van accident. The 11 passengers and van driver were en route from Burkburnett, Texas to a shopping mall in Gainesville when the van, owned by First Assembly of God church, rolled at least twice after a tire blowout. Several passengers were ejected during the rollover.
In a separate Texas 15-passenger van rollover accident, four occupants were also killed, but in this instance the victims were young athletes from Texas Prairie View A&M University. The four, along with one of the other occupants, were thrown from the van when it swerved on the road and then rolled several times. Three of the ejected athletes died at the scene. The other seven occupants were taken to the hospital, and one, who was also ejected during the accident, died soon after arriving.
Colleges frequently use these vehicles for transporting students to sporting events, and Prairie View A & M is not the only school to have lost athletes in such van rollovers. Kenyon College’s swim team lost a member in a 15-passenger van rollover, and two swimmers from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh suffered serious injuries when the team’s van rolled in an accident. A 15-passenger van carrying the DePaul University women’s track team also rolled, leaving three injured. These athletes were all riding in Ford 15-passenger vans.
Ford is the biggest seller of the 15-passenger van, although all major American auto makers manufacture a version of it.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the growing number of rollover accidents and issued a 15 passenger van safety warning in 2001, then issued three additional warnings through 2005, regarding the rollover risks, stating that vans carrying 10 or more occupants had three times the risk of single vehicle rollover accidents than those carrying fewer people. The 15 passenger van safety risk dramatically increases with an increase in the number of occupants, according to findings of the investigations. The NHTSA warning involved Ford as well as Chevrolet, Dodge and General Motors passenger vans. GM, which has a smaller portion of the market and lower percentage of fatal rollovers, has designed its van with a longer wheel base. This longer wheel base lowers the risk of skidding sideways, according to engineers. However, it remains top heavy when loaded with passengers, as do the Dodge and Ford vans.
Safety experts say no more than 10 people can safely ride in a 15-passenger van. Those occupants must be seated at the front and wearing seatbelts. The vehicle’s tires must also be well-maintained.
As a result of deaths and injuries, laws regarding these passenger vans have changed. Since 2005, federal law prohibits the sale of the 15-passenger vans for school-related activities of students in high school and lower school levels, and beginning in 2006 the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program includes the passenger vans in rollover testing. To date, the government continues to warn the public about the significant risks of using these vans.
Manufacturers will continue making the 15 passenger vans, and owners and their insurers are responsible for the vehicle’s safety. Some insurance companies no longer offer renewal of policies unless drivers attend special training classes teaching advanced driving techniques specifically for operation of the 15-passenger vans. Some insurance companies recommend that colleges, day cares, churches and other groups ban use of the vehicles.
Despite the serious 15-passenger van safety risks, these vehicles continue to transport groups of people on the roadways today.
If you or a family member has been injured in a 15-passenger van rollover accident and you would like to discuss your legal options, contact the Cartwright Law Firm’s personal injury attorneys in Houston today for a free consultation.