Last week we all read bout the tragic accident that occurred down in south Florida. A group of church members (18 occupants) were returning from a weekend Palm Sunday event traveling in a 15 passenger van. According to reports, the van ran through a stop sign early Monday before crossing all lanes of US 27 and continued onto a grassy shoulder, crashing into a steep canal partially filled with water. The driver and seven passengers were confirmed dead. The other 10 passengers were taken to four local hospitals, with three in a serious condition. The injured ranged in age from 4 to 89.
After this past accident, federal transportation officials are investigating the crash and looking at the safety of the van. According to news reports, the tragedy is giving fresh exposure to repeated warnings about the vehicles popular with houses of worship, schools and other nonprofits. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent two investigators to the scene. According to a NTSB spokesman, investigators will look at whether the unlit T-intersection set amid farmland had a history of accidents, whether the van’s safety features worked as they should have, the 18 occupants’ use of seatbelts and any factors affecting the driver.
If you google accidents and 15 passenger vans, you find a lot of stories of crashes similar to this one and many included blown tires and overturned vans. Those factors were not at play in this crash of a 2000 Dodge Ram wagon, but watchdogs say the crash that followed a missed stopped sign illustrates how such vans are hard to control in an emergency. According to a former NHTSA head, Joan Claybrook, some insurance companies refuse to insure them because they are so dangerous. Claybrook went on to say that such vans have inherent safety issues that make them more prone to tragedy. Claybrook and other safety advocates have pointed to numerous issues in the vans that make them more susceptible to fatal accidents, from the height and width of the vehicles, to the structural integrity of seats and seatbelt availability and quality. Older models are particularly unsafe, lacking stability controls and tire pressure monitoring features of newer vans.
Federal transportation officials have warned about the potential instability of 15-passenger vans for over a decade. The NHTSA has warned colleges and church groups, among others, that overloading the vans increases the risk of rollover and makes the vehicles difficult to maneuver in emergencies. Officials also urge all occupants in the vans to wear seatbelts and all owners to check the tire pressure for every trip. Some 521 people died in crashes involving 15-passenger vans from 2004 through 2010, according to federal statistics.