The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued another warning about the proper use of a 15-passenger van. The agency once again, urged “colleges, church groups, and other users of 15-passenger vans to take specific steps to keep drivers and passengers safe.” This was the agency’s eighth consumer advisory about the dangers of 15-passenger vans since 2001. Never overload a 15-passenger van because they “are particularly sensitive to loading.” Interestingly, NHTSA fails to define “overload” for the consumers they presumably want to warn. Fifteen-passenger vans have the dubious distinction of being a vehicle that is inherently unsafe if used for its intended purpose. Back in 2001, the agency issued specific information related to overloading, and emphasized the deadly consequences of failing to heed this warning:
The results of a recent analysis by NHTSA revealed that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that is similar to other light trucks and vans when carrying a few passengers. However, the risk of rollover increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five occupants to over ten passengers. In fact, 15-passenger vans (with 10 or more occupants) had a rollover rate in single vehicle crashes that is nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded. NHTSA’s analysis revealed that loading the 15-passenger van causes the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward increasing the likelihood of rollover. The shift in the center of gravity will also increase the potential for loss of control in panic maneuvers.
If more than ten passengers in a van designed and sold for 15 passengers is unsafe, how in the world can NHTSA not just order that these vans be pulled from use? Instead, consumers get a vague message: Don’t overload the van – it’s sensitive. That message is odd, because NHTSA says it sets great store by the efficacy of its warnings. In 2005, it bragged that “the public is responding to safety information about 15-passenger vans. Fatalities from 15-passenger van rollover crashes have declined 35 percent since advisories began in 2001.” In 2009, the agency again touted the steady decline in fatalities since 2001. But, actually the decline in deaths has not been steady.
Statistician Randy Whitfield, of Quality Control Systems Corp., who has published a statistical analysis of cumulative death rate of 15-passenger vans, has noted that the decline has not been consistent. He says:
Annual fatalities in 2007 and 2008 were about half of the totals in the peak years of 2000 and 2001. However, the number of persons killed actually increased in 2004, 2007, and 2008 compared with the previous years. 39% of all of the 15-passenger van rollover fatalities during 1982-2009 (454 of 1,153) occurred after the first Consumer Advisory was issued by NHTSA in 2001.
Any decline is more likely attributable to other factors – such as Dodge’s decision to get out of the 15-passenger van business and Ford and General Motors’ decisions to make standard Electronic Stability Control in later model 15-passenger vans. So, here we have warnings, coupled with the retirement of the older, less safe vans, as the agency’s only real action items in its apparent strategy of managed attrition.
According to NHTSA, as of July 1, 2007, there were about 564,000 15-passenger vans registered in the US, and only 7 percent of the fleet was 2004 or newer. That percentage has no doubt grown over the last five years, but there’s also likely to be a healthy percentage of pre-2004 model year vans, that are now five years older.
Source: The Safety Report
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