Guest Columns

Exploring passenger van safety

Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM
Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM

Fifteen-passenger vans, which many senior living organizations use, are more likely to be involved in a single-vehicle rollover crash than any other type of vehicle. In response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued numerous safety advisories on these vehicles. The latest was published in May 2012.

In addition to getting the word out about the increased rollover risk with 15-passenger vans, the NHTSA addresses steps that can be taken to mitigate it. It's important for organizations that use 15-passenger vans to transport students, seniors, sports groups or other members to understand how to reduce rollover risks, avoid potential dangers and better protect occupants in the event of a rollover crash.

NHTSA recommended 15-passenger van safety precautions include the following:

  • Never overload the vehicle. Keep your passenger load light. NHTSA research has shown that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to more than 10. 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.

  • If you are a passenger, make sure you buckle up for every trip. Nearly 80%  of those who have died nationwide in 15-passenger vans were not buckled up. Wearing seat belts dramatically increases the chances of survival during a rollover crash.

  • If you are an owner, make sure the vehicle is regularly maintained.

  • Have suspension and steering components inspected according to the manufacturer's recommended schedule and replace or repair these parts as necessary.

  • Make sure drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van. Special training and experience are required to properly operate these vehicles. Make sure your driver or drivers have both, and only operate these vehicles when well rested and fully alert.

  • Before every trip, check the tires for proper inflation and assess for signs of wear or damage. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner's manual and on the door pillar. NHTSA's study found that 74 % of all 15-passenger vans had improperly inflated tires. By contrast, 39% of passenger cars had improperly inflated tires. Improperly inflated tires can change handling characteristics, increasing the prospect of a rollover crash.

  • If at all possible, seat passengers and place cargo forward of the rear axle and avoid placing any loads on the roof. By following these guidelines, the vehicle's center of gravity will be lower, which also reduces the chance of a rollover crash.

  • Be mindful of speed and road conditions. The analysis of 15-passenger van crashes shows that the risk of rollover increases significantly at speeds over 50 miles per hour and on curved roads.

  • Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM, is Risk Control Director at Glatfelter Healthcare Practice, part of Glatfelter Program Managers, a strategic business unit dedicated to Glatfelter Insurance Group's program business.

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