Larger passenger vans handle very differently compared to smaller passenger vehicles because, typically, they are longer higher and wider. These vans, commonly known as 15-passenger vans due to their ability to transport as many people, are used widely by non-profit organizations, colleges, universities, sports teams, senior centers, churches and childcare centers. This is despite the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued safety warnings about the dangerous design of these vehicles that make them prone to catastrophic rollover crashes.

These 15-passenger vans can be dangerous, particularly in the hands of inexperienced or reckless drivers. These vans require additional reliance on side mirrors for changing lanes, additional room, longer braking distances and present a higher risk of rollover crashes if they are not properly operated and maintained.

15-Passenger Vans and Rollovers

NHTSA’s research shows that 15-passenger vans, by virtue of their design, are more prone to rollover crashes, particularly ones that result in multiple fatalities. Some of the findings of a 2009 NHTSA study include:

  • In 2007, fatalities to occupants of 15-passenger vans increased nearly 20 percent from the previous year.
  • About 25 percent of fatally injured occupants of 15-passenger vans over the last five years were drivers.
  • The median age group for the drivers killed in these van accidents is 45 to 54 and the median age group for passengers is 25 to 34.
  • In 2007, there were 45 fatalities in 15-passenger vans that rolled over, 73 percent more than the previous year.
  • Also, 80 percent of fatally injured van occupants in rollovers in the past five years were unrestrained by seatbelts.

What Causes Passenger Van Rollovers?

Safety analysts say that the risk of rollovers increases significantly when the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to 10 or more. In fact, 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate in single vehicle crashes that was nearly three times the rate of those that were highly loaded.

This is because loading the 15-passenger van causes the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward increasing the likelihood of a rollover. The shift in the center of gravity will also increase the potential for loss of vehicle control when the driver takes sudden evasive action such as avoiding an animal or debris on the roadway.

Preventing Tragic Van Rollover Accidents

Summer is particularly a busy time for road travel. Camping trips and other group travel put more 15-passenger vans on our roadways. Safety experts say the best thing to do is to avoid using these 15-passenger vans for group travel. However, if you must travel in these vans or drive one, officials have several tips to prevent catastrophic rollover crashes:

  • Tire pressure: Always ensure that the tires are properly inspected before each use. Van tires must be properly inflated and the tread should not be worn down. Excessively worn or improperly inflated tires can lead to a rollover.
  • Driver experience: Anyone who operates a 15-passenger van should be properly trained and experienced. The driver must have a valid license of the state of residence. A commercial driver’s license is recommended as 15-passenger van drivers need additional training due to the different handling of these vans.
  • Driver attention: The driver should be well rested and attentive at all times. Using a cell phone or other types of distractions such as eating drinking or talking to passengers should be absolutely avoided.
  • Safe speed: Driving at a safe speed depending on driving conditions is critical. Drivers should never exceed the posted speed limit. If the roadways are slick or icy, slow down. It is a fact that 15-passenger vans do not respond well to abrupt steering maneuvers and also need additional braking time.
  • People and cargo: At no point should more than 15 people be allowed to ride in a 15-passenger van. When the van is not full, passengers should sit in those seats that are in front of the rear axle. Also, cargo should be placed in front of the rear axle. Do not place any luggage or cargo on the roof. Do not tow anything behind the van. Take a look at the owner’s manual for maximum weight of passengers and cargo. At all times, avoid overloading the van.
  • The Importance of Seatbelts: All occupants must wear seatbelts at all times. Seatbelts must be inspected regularly and any missing, broken or damaged belts and buckles must be fixed. Statistics show that an unrestrained 15-passenger van occupant involved in a single-vehicle crash is approximately three times as likely to be killed as a restrained occupant.

Protecting Your Rights

If you or your family member has been involved in a 15-passenger van rollover crash, please contact the experienced auto product liability attorneys at Bisnar | Chase to protect your legal rights. In cases where defective manufacturing or design caused or contributed to the incident, the automaker or the manufacturer of the defective part can be held liable.

For example, our firm settled a lawsuit with Ford Motor Company and a rental car agency that was involved in a fatal 15-passenger van accident. The van, in this case, was transporting a group of friends from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a birthday party. The van, a Ram 350, rolled over and seatbelts failed. A confidential settlement was reached involving multiple families. If you or a loved one has been involved in a similar crash involving a 15-passenger van, please understand that you do have legal rights.