During the holiday season, Christmas carolers, church groups, athletes participating in holiday tournaments and others often travel in 15-passenger vans. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has repeatedly warned about the increased risk of rollover accidents when traveling in these top heavy vehicles. Although the design of these vehicles makes them inherently more likely to rollover, this risk rises depending on a number of factors including the passenger load in the van.
An NHTSA study found that there is a direct correlation between the number of passengers in these vans and the likelihood of a rollover accident. Although the vans theoretically are equipped to transport 15 passengers, these motor vehicles are nearly three times more likely to rollover when they are loaded with ten or more passengers when compared to a similar van with less than five passengers. During one recent twelve month period, the NHTSA found that while the number of fatal 15-passenger van crashes rose twenty percent, the fatality rate for occupants of these vehicles involved in rollover collisions increased by 73 percent.
While 15-passenger vans are prone to tip over because of their design, there are certain factors that can increase the risk. When these vehicles are more fully loaded with cargo and passengers, the center of gravity shifts higher and toward the rear of the passenger van. This shift in the center of gravity makes the van less stable and more difficult to maneuver when executing emergency evasive procedures. While federal requirements mandating electronic stability control (ESC) systems on new vehicles has improved the situation, many older 15-passenger vans do not possess this technology. An ESC system essentially amounts to a computer controlled system that applies the brakes individually to tires to assist a driver in maintaining control of a vehicle when it enters a skid.
Driver inexperience is another common factor in rollover accidents involving passenger vans. These vehicles handle differently from cars, trucks and SUVs so there is a significant risk when a parent or member of a church group attempts to drive the vehicle without experience and training. Many organizations that use these vehicles for outings do not hire a professional driver with experience driving these vehicles.
Vehicle equipment and maintenance issues also can increase the fatality rate in 15-passenger van collisions. Some vans do not have working seat belts for all occupants which allows occupants to be ejected during a collision. The NHTSA reports that approximately 80 percent of those who die in rollovers involving passenger vans are not wearing seat belts. Further, improper tire pressure or dry rot can result in tire blowouts causing a 15-passenger van rollover accident. The federal agency also estimates that almost one in three of these motor vehicles have at least one tire that is significantly underinflated.
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