The question of whether 12 and 15-passenger vans are safe refuses to go away. They have recently been in the news because some insurers are willing to provide coverage for new models, citing the improvements that manufacturers have made and the fact that 15-passenger van related deaths have declined steadily since 2001. The assumption is that the decrease has resulted from improved technology and safer vehicles but there is a strong counterclaim that the reduction is actually the result of reduced passenger miles. Many entities and groups campaigned vigorously to eliminate the use of these vehicles and through those efforts numerous vans have been retired from passenger service and many others now carry fewer passengers at lower speeds.
The perceived increase in safety is causing some of the organizations we insure to wonder if they should consider the new models. What are the issues? While it is not illegal to use 12 or 15-passenger vans for general transportation, there are restrictions regarding school-aged children in 15-passenger vans. Legality aside, a duty is owed to all passengers, adult, or child – a duty to keep them safe from harm. It is not just to keep them safe if we can afford to do so. If we cannot afford to transport them safely we should not transport them at all.
The cited safety advances in 15-passenger vans include stabilizer bars, rollover sensors, and crash sensors. While these are all good, they do not alter these vehicles’ shortcomings:
The vehicle’s basic flaws are nearly impossible to alter. Manufacturers have not made significant changes in track (width of stance) that would reduce rollover tendency and some have even made the vehicles taller, thus raising their center of gravity.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) continually emphasizes the danger of these vehicles and gives a list of safety precautions, all focusing on behavior.
If your programming requires transportation, mini-school buses are the acceptable alternative most similar to vans. Most states do not require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for vehicles carrying 15 or fewer passengers.
Because we consider the improvements to be insufficient to alter our historical stance, dual rear wheels, seat belts, increased rollover protection (FMVSS 220), increased body joint strength (FMVSS 221), and passenger space compartmentalization (FMVSS 222) remain necessary for unqualified mini-bus approval.
Redwoods insured facilities have worked very diligently to remove these dangerous vehicles from their transportation programs, but we must stay vigilant and continue to eliminate them until we can proudly say that none of our community is at risk from these vehicles. Enforce compliance with a policy that 12- and 15-passenger vans are never to be used to transport people.