15-passenger vans are often used by schools, churches, and as shuttles for tourists. Because of loopholes in the law, they are exempt from many safety regulations which normally apply to passenger cars, school buses, or commercial vehicles, and are manufactured with a unique combination of defects. These vans are very prone to roll causing serious injuries and death.
Like SUVs, 15 passenger vans have a high center of gravity. The problem is made worse because they carry so many passengers. When there are ten or more occupants, the center of gravity moves up and rearward, making the van more difficult to control, especially when braking or performing evasive maneuvers to avoid an accident. The effect is so extreme that the rollover rates for these vans when loaded with 10 or more people are nearly three times the rate for those loaded with fewer than five.
Combine this basic design flaw with tire failure and you have a recipe for disaster. Tire failure can easily cause an accident even in a stable vehicle, but the inherent instability of the 15 passenger van makes it very prone to roll in the event of a blow out.
Loopholes in the Law
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), issued by the National Highway traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), apply to the manufacturing of most vehicles. 15 passenger vans have slipped through the cracks. The wording of the FMVSS allows 15 passenger vans to narrowly escape classification as passenger cars, school buses, or commercial vehicles.
15 passenger vans are classified as buses. Buses do not have to conform to the safety standards which apply to cars and SUVs. They are buses, but they are not school buses, so they avoid yet another set of safety standards.
Because they carry fewer than 16 passengers, they are not classified as commercial vehicles, either. Commercial vehicles are subject to strict regulations including special driver training, occupant protection, and pre-trip inspections. None of this applies to the 15 passenger van.
Roof crush resistance – FMVSS 216. One of the main causes of serious injury and death in rollover accidents is roof crush. FMVSS 216 is the safety regulation which dictates roof crush resistance standards, and sadly, it is one of the rule from which 15 passenger vans are exempt. The roof pillars, roof headers, and roof side rails in 15-passenger vans are too weak to prevent roof crush when they roll.
Roof crush is just what it sounds like. The roof of the vehicle enters the passenger compartment. Roof crush can cause injuries in several ways:
- Impact with the roof itself
- Seat belt failure
- Ejection if the windshield or windows burst
Common injuries caused by roof crush include:
- Neck fractures
- Spinal cord injury
- Brain injury
Improved safety regulations for 15 passenger vans may be on the way, but if and when they take effect they will not apply to the thousands of vehicles already on the road.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a 15-passeneger van accident, contact an experienced defective vehicle attorney today.