An important component for churches sharing the WORD is transportation. One of the most common methods of transportation are 15-passenger vans. These vans provide room to move large groups of people without requiring a commercial driver’s license. Several studies have proven these vehicles provide more risk to passengers than many churches are aware.
A major concern with 15 passenger vans is rollovers. From 1997- 2006, accidents involving 15 passenger van roll-overs caused the deaths of more than 1,000 occupants. Roll-overs are a big issue on vans manufactured in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) “these model (90’s and early 2000’s) research has shown that 15 passenger vans have a rollover risk that increase dramatically as the number of occupants’ increases. 15 passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate nearly three times the rate of those that had fewer than five occupants.” This is why defensive driving is crucial in maintaining the safety of occupants in the vehicle, especially if you operate a 90’s or early 2000’s model 15 passenger van. Only experienced drivers should operate these vans and the seatbelt law should always be enforced.
In recent years, there have been advances in the technology of 15 passenger vans to reduce rollovers. In 2011, Electronic Stability Control, or ESC, became a required standard feature in 15 passenger vans. ESC is an on-board crash avoidance system designed to help the driver stay in control during an emergency maneuver like sudden swerving or braking.
The majority of the 2018 models have rearview cameras which can also help avoid backing collisions. It is expected that by 2022 many 15 passenger vans will have the forward collision alert feature, meaning the vehicle will notify the driver of an impending crash or collision.
Even with these recent enhancements, 15 passenger vans still have hazards. None of these safety features directly address the issues deemed a problem by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.
The NHTSA indicates these are major concerns they have with passenger transportation in 15 passenger vans:
- High centers of gravity – vehicle instability
- Flat sides contributing to instability in crosswinds
- Seating configurations that place excess weight on left rear tire contributing to instability (this is mainly due to walkway to the rear seats being on the right side)
- Designed for the less rigorous standards of transporting cargo
- Width of stance (the distance between the two front or rear tires)
- Lack of maintenance, tire exams, etc.
If your church can’t get around using a 15-passenger van, it is important to make sure the following NHTSA recommendations are reviewed:
- Inspect tire pressure before each use; check the B-pillar (one of the van’s vertical supports) or the owner’s manual for manufacturer recommended tire size and pressure.
- Inspect spare tires (they weaken with age even if unused).
- Use an experienced driver, preferably one with a commercial driver’s license (CDL), and certainly someone mature and experienced in the 25 – 70 age bracket.
- While traveling, ensure adequate rest for the driver(s) and help them keep road-focused attention while driving (no cell phone use, limited conversation with passengers, 8 hours of driving in a 24-hour period).
- Maintain safe speeds (and reduce speeds in inclement weather).
- Check strategic placement of cargo (forward of rear axle, nothing on roof).
- Require use of seat belts (80 percent of fatalities occur because passengers are not wearing seat belts).
We encourage your church van drivers to complete the free on-line Defensive Driving Course at www.safechurch.com to educate your drivers on the dangers of operating church vans. If you need help accessing this web site for the DDC course, call our office and we can assist.
Sources: NTHSA, Church Law and Tax Report, Hanover