Many businesses and organizations own and operate 15-person vans. Other organizations, such as schools, colleges, vanpools, and churches, rent vans from time to time to transport groups of employees or others to functions and events.
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While 15-passenger vans are useful, drivers and passengers must exercise caution to reduce the risks associated with these vehicles. According to National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from five to ten. In fact, 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had nearly three times the rollover rate in single vehicle crashes as those with fewer than five occupants.
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The NHTSA suggests the following:
Drivers require that all passengers wear safety belts at all times.
Drivers have been trained and have extensive experience.
Tire pressure is checked at least once a week using the manufacturer’s recommended levels.
There are no loads on the vehicle’s roof.
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According to NHTSA research, loading these vehicles to their rated capacity increases the likelihood of a rollover due to an increase in centre-of-gravity height. When these vans are loaded with passengers and cargo, the centre of gravity shifts rearward, increasing the vertical load on the rear tires. This situation is exacerbated when users load cargo onto the vans’ roofs.
Some automakers exacerbate the issue by extending the rear passenger compartment well behind the vehicle’s rear wheels. When the vans are fully loaded, a seat for four passengers is located behind the rear axle. This makes the vehicle’s back end heavy enough that if there is a sudden swerve, the rear end can swing out.
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These factors combine to cause stability issues, especially when drivers make sudden and severe steering movements in response to unexpected traffic situations, or when they inadvertently drop wheels off the road and attempt to recover.
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According to NHTSA research, the handling characteristics of a lightly loaded 15-passenger van and a fully loaded van are significantly different. The handling characteristics of these vehicles change depending on the load during extreme manoeuvres. A fully loaded van is inherently less stable than one that is empty.
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Wheelchair lifts and raised roofs exacerbate the problem by adding weight to one side of the chassis and raising the centre of gravity. Vans with wheelchair lifts should have heavy-duty suspensions, anti-sway bars, and heavy-duty tires, if available. Wheelchairs, especially battery-powered ones, add to the total weight carried by the vehicle and should be considered when calculating the gross vehicle weight.
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Seatbelts Reduce Fatalities Significantly
Between 2003 and 2007, approximately 68 percent of all occupants in 15-passenger vans involved in fatal crashes were unrestrained, compared to approximately 55 percent of occupants in passenger vehicles. During the same time period, about twice as many survivors were restrained as unrestrained. There were four times as many unrestrained people as restrained people among those who died. Clearly, the use of restraints has a significant impact on survivability when a 15-passenger van rolls over.
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Organizations Issue Warnings About Rollover Risks
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) both warn of the rollover hazards that 15-passenger vans pose.
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Spares: All tires deteriorate with age, including unused tires. Use a new spare rather than an old one. Used vans may have dangerous spare tires that are several years old. According to the NHTSA, tires that are at least five years old are not completely safe. Determine the age of a tire by looking for its tire identification number on the sidewall. The last four digits indicate the tire’s production week and year (for example, 1010 means March 2010). Encourage drivers to double-check the spare tire before each trip.
The following factors contribute to more rollovers in SUVs than in other vehicles:
A strong centre of gravity
Flat sides contribute to crosswind instabilities.
The structural integrity is not intended for heavy cargo use.
Inadequate weight distribution
When driving 15-passenger vans, keep this in mind.
If your institution continues to allow the vans to be used, the NHTSA recommends that you investigate:
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Driver experience: Because of the complexity and risks associated with driving these vans, experienced, licensed drivers who regularly operate this type of vehicle are required. A commercial driver’s license is required in some states.
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Driver concentration and rest: To encourage driver concentration, cell phone use while driving is prohibited, conversation with other passengers is discouraged, and driving time per day is limited.
Speed: These vans require more braking time and cannot handle sharp turns as well as cars. As a result, drivers should adhere to the posted speed limit. Consider making drivers responsible for speeding ticket fines.
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Safety belts: In a single-vehicle crash, an unrestrained 15-passenger van occupant is roughly four times more likely to be killed than a restrained occupant. Seat belts should be required for van occupants, and this should be reinforced with signage in the van. Also, inspect seat belts on a regular basis and replace any that are missing, broken, or damaged.
Tire pressure: Remind drivers to inspect their tires and check their tire pressure before each use. Keep in mind that the recommended tire pressure for the front and back tires may differ. Tires that are excessively worn or underinflated can cause drivers to lose control and roll over.
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Program for Fleet Safety
To facilitate the training of all drivers who operate 15-passenger vans, a fleet safety program is recommended. Take a proactive stance. At the very least, your program should cover the following topics:
- Company policy on safe driving
- Utilization of electronic devices
- Drug and alcohol policy
- Driver qualification and criminal background checks
- Driver education, including the hazards of 15-passenger vans
- Monitoring and rewarding safe driving habits
- Written driver contracts
- Reporting an accident
- Vehicle inspection and upkeep
All aspects of your fleet safety program should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
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