Passenger Vans: More Room, More Risk

Passenger Vans: More Room, More Risk

After a few false starts, the modern van made its first noteworthy appearance in 1983. The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager models manufactured by Chrysler that year made these roomy vehicles a more affordable option for families. With the ability to easily reconfigure seating to handle varying volumes, vans effectively replaced station wagons in the automotive market.

A popular subcategory, 15-passenger vans are widely used to carry athletes, schoolchildren, scouts, church members, campers, seniors, travelers, and other groups. But is the convenience worth the risk? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 15-passenger vans are a safety threat due to a high rate of rollover accidents. The problems stem from the fact that 15-passenger vans began as converted cargo vans that did not incorporate the basic features needed to safely transport people. Some manufacturers achieved the additional room by lengthening the body over the same frame as a traditional van (an “overhang”), while others lengthened the wheelbase.

In a report examining crash data from 2003 to 2007, NHTSA found that the risk of rollover in a single-vehicle crash rose dramatically as the number of passengers increased. A 15-passenger van with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate that was nearly three times higher than one that was carrying fewer than five people. In 2007, occupant fatalities in 15-passenger vans increased nearly 20 percent over 2006, while fatalities increased by 73 percent in those that actually rolled over. Vans with a 15-passenger capacity have a center of gravity that is higher than many vehicles, which gets raised by each additional passenger.

Improper loading or overloading a van causes the center of gravity to shift up and to the rear, which increases the likelihood of fishtailing and rollover. This fluctuation in gravity can be particularly difficult for inexperienced drivers to handle. In addition to increased potential for losing control, lack of experience can present problems dealing with the turning radius, limited cornering ability, and cargo shifting that comes with driving a 15-passenger van. It can also be difficult for drivers to not be distracted from the road by the conversation and activities of 14 passengers. Tire failure due to significant underinflation and improper weight distribution is also a common emergency that drivers have to be able to manage.

Passengers can help themselves by sitting in seats that are in front of the rear axle if the van is not at capacity and by always wearing their seatbelt. Approximately 80 percent of the rollover fatalities in the NHTSA report were not restrained. Drivers should be properly trained, tires should be frequently assessed for proper inflation, and luggage/equipment should not be carried on the roof or in a towed trailer.

15-passenger vans include the following vehicles:

  • Chevrolet Express 3500
  • Dodge Ram Van/Wagon B3500
  • Ford Econoline E350
  • Ford Transit-350
  • GMC Savana G3500.

If you or someone you love has been hurt as a result of a 15-passenger van accident, or, if you have more questions about this topic, trust your case to the Macon, GA-based Mann Law Firm. We serve all of Middle Georgia, including Dublin, Warner Robins and Milledgeville. We understand the potential complexities that a van wreck can involve and we offer a free, no-obligation consultation. Contact us for a thorough case evaluation by calling (478) 742-3381 or by filling out our online form.