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15 Passenger Vans:  Still Dangerous After All These Years?

15 Passenger Vans: Still Dangerous After All These Years?

Some 15 plus years ago the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a consumer advisory about the dangers of 15-passenger vans, but are they still dangerous after all these years?  Perhaps we have to look no further than to know that the NHTSA has repeated that advisory multiple times since, so it’s important for church/ministry leaders to be familiar with these advisories and with NHTSA safety recommendations.

15 Passenger Vans:  Still Dangerous After All These Years?

Churches or other ministry groups that continue to use 15-passenger vans are assuming an increased risk of liability.  Coupled with damaging statistical information regarding their safety, consider also these other restrictions.

  • Effective September 1, 2015, the use of 15-passenger vans manufactured before 2005 are no longer allowed in connection with Scouting programs and activities.
  • Federal law prohibits dealers from selling or leasing a new “school bus” to any school or charity unless the  bus conforms to stringent federal safety requirements.  A school bus is a vehicle with seating for 11 or more persons that will be “used significantly” to transport children to and from school or school related activities (in this context, “school” refers to preschool through high school).  The typical 15-passenger van does not comply with any of these requirements.  If a church operates a school or preschool, it may be unable to purchase or lease a new 15-passenger van if the van will be “used significantly” for the transportation of students.

Rollover, Side Impact, and Seatbelt Concerns

Fifteen-passenger vans were designed to carry cargo and later fitted as passenger vehicles.  Because of their original design, they don’t comply with many of the safety standards that apply to passenger cars or to school buses.  Further study has raised three main concerns about the 15-passenger vans.

  1. The weight and center of gravity of these vans make them much more susceptible to rolling over when they are loaded.
  2. The design of these vans cannot handle a side impact accident.
  3. Many injuries and deaths attributed to these vans are a result of ejection, either due to the lack of seatbelt availability or use.

The question of whether 15-passenger vans are safe is not going away.  Manufacturers have made improvements and 15-passenger van related deaths have declined steadily since 2001.  The assumption is that the decrease has resulted from improved technology and thus safer vehicles, but there is a strong counterclaim that the reduction is simply the result of reduced passenger miles due to the wide publicity of their dangers so many have been retired from passenger service and many others now carry fewer passengers at lower speeds.

The perceived increase in safety is causing some organizations to wonder if they should consider the new models.  However, as stated above, there are numerous legal and remaining safety concerns and so it becomes not a matter of convenience or affordability, it’s a duty owed to create a safer place for your ministry.

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