Two recent rollovers involving 15-passenger vans in different parts of the country have brought more attention to the public on how dangerous these vans really are. One of the most dangerous vehicles on the road, the 15-passenger van is widely used by churches, schools, scout troops, day care centers and hotels. These vehicles look like any other van except they have been lengthened to hold more riders. The trouble is, when you put those extra passengers onboard, the van is three times more likely to rollover in an emergency. The problem is also accelerated when luggage and other items are put on board along with the passengers.
Ford, GM and Dodge all make a version of the 15-passenger van. The vans roll over even when they do not collide with another vehicle. After several well-publicized crashes involving these vans, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took the unprecedented step of noting:
These crashes have raised the question as to whether 15-passenger vans, especially loaded 15-passenger vans, are unusually susceptible to rollover. Fifteen-passenger vans differ from most light truck vehicles in that they have a large payload capacity and the occupants sit fairly high up in the vehicle. Therefore, when loaded the vehicle may have a much worse rollover propensity than when unloaded.
NHTSA found that the risk of rollover increases as the number of occupants increases by as much as 85% with ten or more passengers. Car manufacturers agree that vehicles should be designed to slide out on flat smooth pavement instead of roll over. However, the 15-passenger van fails this standard. Hardest hit have been groups who use 15-passenger vans to transport the young. There have been numerous incidents of 15-passenger vans tragically altering lives and families of young people across the country.
Lawyers in our firm have been aware of the problems with these vehicles for many years, but were recently reminded of the dangers this vehicle possesses when a church van rolled over right here in our home town. This event involved a Dodge 15-passenger van that rolled over carrying a youth group from First Baptist Church Montgomery to a lake outing. Fortunately, none of the occupants were killed. But this incident spotlights that something must be done to either get these vehicles off the road or make them safe. There were several miracles that occurred that day to save the lives of the youngsters in the van.
In a second 15-passenger van rollover which took place in New York, the occupants weren’t as fortunate. In that incident, six people were killed. This too involved a van being used by a church. There were 14 passengers in the van when a rear tire blew out. The van predictably rolled over several times. In addition to those killed, the other eight passengers were injured.
Electronic Stability Control is being offered for certain types of these vehicles and will help. A fix originally contemplated by Ford engineers, but rejected for costs reasons, involves placing dual rear wheels on the vehicles to increase the stability and lessen the risks associated with rear tire blow outs. However, the safest alternative is to not drive these vehicles at all. There are small buses available on the market much safer than these vans. If you have any questions concerning 15-passenger vans, please contact Chris Glover, a lawyer in our firm’s Product Liability Section at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com. Chris has handled a number of cases involving rollovers of these vans.
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