Many employers, schools, churches, and other groups choose to transport passengers using twelve- to fifteen-passenger vans. While these passenger vans are convenient and often affordable, many organizations don’t realize that they pose special safety hazards. Some companies and drivers treat large passenger vans like standard cars and trucks, but this mindset puts the driver and passengers at an unnecessary risk of serious injury or death. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in a twelve-year period, 1,576 fifteen-passenger vans were involved in fatal crashes. A total of 1,111 fifteen-passenger van occupants died in these crashes.
Passenger Vans Versus Traditional Vehicles
Passenger vans don’t drive like typical minivans or trucks. A fifteen-passenger van is substantially longer and wider than a car. Drivers must use more space to maneuver the vehicle and must rely heavily on their side-view mirrors when turning or changing lanes. Passenger vans take longer to accelerate and brake than other vehicles, which can make merging onto highways and coming to stops more difficult. Passenger vans have a markedly higher center of gravity than typical cars, which increases the risk of a rollover accident. This risk further increases if the driver makes fast, tight turns, or if passengers and cargo are improperly loaded in the van. Because of these risks, some states and companies require passenger van drivers to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or take special training.
Because passenger vans have a high center of gravity, drivers must take particular care when loading passengers and cargo. Weight should be evenly distributed on the left and right sides of the vehicle, and weight should only be placed behind the rear axle if all other spots in the vehicle are fully loaded. Improper loading could throw the vehicle’s center of gravity off balance and significantly increase the risk of a rollover. To keep the center of gravity properly balanced:
- Don’t load passengers or cargo only on one side of the vehicle
- Don’t allow passengers to sit behind the rear axle unless all other seats are filled
- Never load cargo on top of the vehicle
- Don’t make overly fast or sharp turns
When operating a passenger van, keep the following potential hazards in mind:
- Due to their flat sides, passenger vans are particularly vulnerable to crosswinds
- The driver’s seat generally sits above the front axle, which changes the driver’s perspective compared to the perspective in a traditional car
- Passenger vans cannot steer as tightly as typical vehicles
- Passenger vans have a large turning radius
- Many passenger vans do not have rear-view mirrors
- Passenger vans have significantly larger blind spots than traditional cars
One of the most common causes of passenger van rollovers is tire failure. Because passenger vans are often loaded with plenty of weight and travel long distances, their tires can quickly become worn, damaged, or under inflated. To avoid a tire blowout or rollover, drivers should check their tires for damage and verify that they’re properly inflated before every trip. The NHTSA recommends replacing tires on passenger vans every six years.
Passenger vans should never be treated like traditional cars, trucks, or minivans. Drivers should be aware of safety risks and preventative measures when driving a passenger van, especially a fifteen-passenger van. Drivers should take care to have extra space when accelerating, braking, turning and parking. Drivers should always balance passengers and cargo equally on the left and right sides of the van and should load the van from front to back. Passengers and cargo should never be placed behind the rear axle unless all other seats have been filled, and tires should be checked before every trip.
For further information, follow these links:
Passenger Van Safety
Top Priority: Tire Safety
15-Passenger Van Awareness Program
Safety is not a Luxury: Understanding the Risks of Passenger Vans