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Fatal Van Crash Met With Inadequate Response

Eighth warning issued about 15-passenger vans; Warnings prove ineffectual

In the wake of yet another fatal crash involving a 15-passenger van – this one related to an alleged tire failure – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has again issued a consumer advisory about those vans.

A safety advocacy group notes that it is the eighth warning the agency has issued about those vans and says the information is too little and too late.  Studies have shown these vans are prone to deadly rollovers. At Munley, Munley & Cartwright, P.C., we agree. The agency needs to take a much firmer stance than issuing safety notices.

The advocacy group Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., speculated that the advisory was issued in response to a recent fatal rollover of a passenger van:

“On March 1, the Epicenter of Worship Church held a prayer vigil for Omberi Erasto, the 18-year-old East Lansing High School student who died in a 15-passenger van rollover crash last month. Erasto was one of 17 occupants in a 2002 Chevrolet Express homeward bound on I-96 after a choir performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The left rear tire of the Express failed, leading to a loss-of-control crash that left several passengers severely injured, including Erasto’s younger sister, who lost her leg.”

On March 22, the NHTSA issued this consumer notice:

WASHINGTON, DC – As the spring driving season gets under way, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is urging colleges, church groups, and other users of 15-passenger vans to take specific steps to keep drivers and passengers safe — including buckling up every trip, every time.

Recognizing that 15-passenger vans are particularly sensitive to loading, the agency warns users never to overload these vehicles under any circumstances. NHTSA research shows overloading 15-passenger vans both increases rollover risk and makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.

Tire pressure can vary on front and back tires that are used for 15-passenger vans. This is why the agency urges vehicle users to make certain the vans have appropriately-sized and load rated tires that are properly inflated before every trip. Taking into account the fact that tires degrade over time, NHTSA recommends that spare tires not be used as replacements for worn tires. In fact, many tire manufacturers recommend that tires older than 10 years not be used at all.

Following are safety tips for anyone planning a trip in a 15-passenger van:

  • Never overload the vehicle.
  • If you are a passenger, make sure you buckle up for every trip.
  • If you are an owner, make sure the vehicle is regularly maintained.
  • Owners should have suspension and steering components inspected according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and replace or repair these parts as necessary.
  • Owners should ensure that vehicles are equipped with properly sized and load-rated tires.
  • Owners should also make sure drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van.
  • Before every trip, drivers should check the tires for proper inflation, and make sure there are no 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.

SRS criticized the agency’s advisory for containing little information of value and being overly vague:

“The agency is, once again, urging “colleges, church groups, and other users of 15-passenger vans to take specific steps to keep drivers and passengers safe.”

This is the agency’s eighth consumer advisory about the dangers of 15-passenger vans since 2001. The number one tip? Never overload a 15-passenger van because they “are particularly sensitive to loading.”

Funny, though, the agency neglects to define “overload” for the consumers they presumably want to warn. Fifteen-passenger vans have the dubious distinction of being a vehicle that is inherently unsafe if used for its intended purpose.”

The SRS blog post also notes that “[back in 2001], the agency issued specific information related to overloading, and emphasized the deadly consequences of failing to heed this warning:”

“The results of a recent analysis by NHTSA revealed that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that is similar to other light trucks and vans when carrying a few passengers. However, the risk of rollover increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five occupants to over ten passengers. 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. NHTSA’s analysis revealed that loading the 15-passenger van causes the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward increasing the likelihood of rollover. The shift in the center of gravity will also increase the potential for loss of control in panic maneuvers.”

According to the SRS post, older vans without electronic stability control are especially prone to rollovers.

We applaud our fellow bloggers at SRS for alerting us and the general public about the dangers of these 15-passenger vans. We urge the NHTSA in the future to issue clearer and more forceful advisories about the dangers those vans pose.

If you have been injured or a loved one killed in a vehicle accident you should contact our office to learn your legal rights and options. At Munley, Munley & Cartwright, our attorneys have helped Pennsylvania car accident victims recover damages that include medical costs, property loss, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Please call Munley, Munley & Cartwright’s lawyers at 1-800-318-LAW1 for a free assessment of your case or use our Free Online Accident Case Evaluation.

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