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Keeping Your Drivers & Passengers Safe on the Road

The 15-passenger van has been the subject of many studies over the years. It has been scrutinized and closely examined for safety issues and its inability to handle certain situations and road conditions. It is important to understand the dynamics of the 15-passenger van and what makes it a greater risk than most vehicles for accidents.

Fifteen-passenger vans were first developed in the 1970s as an alternative to buses so that small groups of people could travel together. Rather than using buses to cart around smaller groups, many groups turned to these larger vans for transporting their patrons. For churches, 15-passenger vans are convenient. However, their convenience was soon questioned when it was realized that they posed serious dangers. Over time, issues with tire performance and propensity to roll over in an accident became a big safety concern.

Design Problems of 12 and 15-Passenger Vans
Fifteen-passenger vans are significantly longer than regular vans, which allows for carrying a larger group of people without having to rely on a bus. However, the more people and cargo the van carries, the more the center of gravity shifts upwards and rearwards, causing the van to become "top and tail heavy."

When the vehicle becomes top heavy, there is a greater risk for a rollover in an accident. Rollover crashes are very dangerous; they can throw passengers from the van, and a rollover can cause the roof of the van to cave in and get crushed, causing serious injury or death to the passengers.

When a 15-passenger van is fully loaded, it handles much differently from when only a few passengers or a lighter load is on-board. Added weight in the back of the van increases the risk of fishtailing. Fishtailing in such a large vehicle causes loss of control and ultimately may cause a rollover if the driver over-corrects. For this reason, extra care needs to be given when driving a 15-passenger van that is fully loaded with passengers or at its weight limit.

Something as simple as improperly inflated tires can lead to an accident in large vans. Rear tire pressure is different than front tire pressure on most larger vans, something that can be easily overlooked by drivers who mistakenly think of these vehicles as larger version of the family mini-van. Always check the manufacturers recommended tire type and tire-pressure for specific guidance.

Engineers recognized problems with the stability of the larger vans early on. Their recommendations included expanding the wheel base to add dual-based rear tires for better stability. Experts knew that dual rear tires would significantly reduce the risk of fishtailing, which would give the vehicle greater control and stability. Dual rear tires would also help to lower the risk of rollovers.

The NHTSA voiced its concern about the risks these vans can pose and the precautions that should be considered when riding in or operating one. Although significant changes were not made to the vans, van operators can still help lower the risks of accidents by learning about them. The more you know and understand about 15-passenger vans, the safer your passengers will be.

Organization-Level Safety Policies for 12 and 15-Passenger Vans
Safety precautions in any automobile are important, but in a 15-passenger van, these safety precautions are crucial. Creating a written vehicle policy that covers general best-practices can help your church protect your drivers and passengers, as well as your organization.

Everyone Must Wear a Seatbelt at All Times
Seatbelts can help prevent passengers and drivers from being thrown from the vehicle, especially during an accident involving a rollover. Seatbelts are important for any vehicle, but they become even more important when riding in a vehicle that is known for increased risks of rollovers. All passengers must wear their seatbelts at all times. Shoulder belts need to be worn correctly; they should be pulled taut over the shoulder, and not worn under the arm or behind the back. Do not over-load the van with more passengers than it has seatbelts.

Driver Training Program
A driver training program for any vehicle that is commercially owned and operated is important. For drivers that transport people, it is even more crucial they receive initial training, followed by regular re-training intervals to keep their skills and knowledge current in handling their vehicle. There are a variety of training programs, both online and in a classroom.

Driver Fitness
Drivers should receive annual physical fitness exams. This should include eye exams as well as physical exams. Making sure your drivers are in the best physical shape to handle the vehicle should be required before they drive is crucial. This is important because 15-passenger vans are larger vehicles and could require more detailed maneuvering and a greater level of attention. (You should make it a standard requirement that your drivers are physically fit.)

Driver Experience
15-passenger vans do not require that a driver carry a commercial driver's license; however, buses designed to carry 16 passengers or more do. Despite not needing a CDL to operate a 15-passenger van, drivers should still be properly trained with the 15-passenger van. They should still be required to take the proper courses regarding safety issues, preferably courses that are specifically tailored to safe operation of 15-passenger vans, how they perform in emergencies, and how to handle them.

This article is courtesy of BrightFleet, which provides a comprehensive fleet driver training package for fleets of any size, www.BrightFleet.com.

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