Bulletin: NHTSA warns of the Dangers of 15-Passenger Vans

The federal government issued a consumer advisory warning all people and groups that use 15-passenger vans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an federal agency established by the Highway Safety Act in 1970 dedicated to motor vehicle and highway safety. NHTSA recently stated that users of 15 passenger vans need to ensure that the tires are properly inflated before every trip, that the vans are properly maintained and that they are not overloaded. A recent NHTSA survey found that 30 percent of 15 passenger vans have at least one significantly under-inflated tire by 8 psi or more. While a step in the right direction in spreading the word about the inherent dangers in these vehicles, this is simply not enough to countervail the design flaws and defects that the manufacturers of the 15 passenger vans pass on to their consumers.

There are currently more than half a million of these vans on the roads in the U.S., and they appear to be an ideal mode of transportation for small church groups or school groups, when a full school bus would be bigger than what the group feels they would need. But these vans, regardless of model an make, are easily susceptible to rollover accidents. The manufacturers of these vehicles such as Ford and Dodge have known of the dangers these vehicles present over a decade, but continue to needlessly endanger the public selling a defective design.

These vehicles do not pass the same government safety tests that other passenger vehicles do. A NHTSA analysis of 15 passenger vans showed that fully loading these vans caused the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward, increasing the chances of a rollover occurring.

This shift in the center of gravity increases the offs of loss of control in maneuvers where the driver is quickly trying to change course. A common example of this is when a driver dozes off or loses attention and  the van drifts off to the right shoulder. The driver suddenly becomes alert pulling the wheel to the left causing instability and then to the right where the high center point and edge of the tires causes the van to roll over. Worse yet, passengers generally not encouraged to wear seatbelts causing them to be ejected leading to catastrophic and fatal injuries. Many times where there is a complete rollover, the roof crushes down on the passengers causing serious spine injuries which could lead to paralysis. Finally, the interior design of these units are nor good for handling side impact.

A 2009 NHTSA study found that the rollover rate for a fully loaded van is nearly three times the rate of vans that are lightly loaded. In spite of being called 15-passenger vans, the number of passengers to reduce the likelihood of rolling over is 10 passengers. That is only two thirds of the maximum capacity of the vehicle. When you increase the load to 15 passengers, the accident rate is six times greater that if the same van only carried five occupants.

If your group is going to use 15 passenger vans, NHTSA recommends the following:

  • Never overload the vehicle. Agency research shows overloading not only increases rollover risk but makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.
  • Make sure the vehicle is regularly maintained, and that drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van.
  • Have suspension and steering components inspected according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and replace or repair these parts as necessary.
  • Ensure that vehicles are equipped with properly sized and load-rated tires.
  • Check the tires for proper inflation and signs of wear or damage. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner’s manual and on the door pillar.
  • Finally, it is critical for passengers to wear seat belts on every trip. A disproportionate number – 88 percent – of people killed in rollover crashes in 15-passenger vans were not wearing their seat belts.

Source: NHTSA Consumer Advisory: NHTSA Reminds Drivers of 15-Passenger Vans to Guard Against Rollover Crashes During the Warm-Weather Driving Season

Faulkner Law Offices are personal injury attorneys in Bakersfield, California. We have litigated numerous cases where there are vehicle defects. If you need our help, please call Faulkner Law Offices at (661) 327-0601.