There are over 500,000 twelve and fifteen passenger vans in use in the U.S. They are primarily used by churches, community organizations and college sports teams. Since 1990, there have been well over 1,200 fatal accidents involving these large, heavy vans.
In large van accident lawsuits, plaintiffs have alleged that 12- and 15- passenger vans have design defects and lack needed safety features. The allegations claim that the vans are:
- prone to loss of control from over-steering and otherwise difficult to handle
- unstable when loaded, leading to fatal rollover accidents
- not crashworthy, resulting in deaths that should have been survivable
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued warnings due to an increased rollover risk from 15-passenger and extended 12-passenger vans in 2001, 2002 and again in June 2004. The agency reported that while these vans handle similarly to arguably dangerous large SUVs when lightly loaded, their rollover risk increases substantially when fully loaded. In fact, according to the reports, these vans are five times more likely to roll over when fully loaded than when the driver is the sole occupant.
The problem arises because the center of gravity in a fully loaded van is higher and to the rear of when it is unoccupied. This makes the van more vulnerable to a rollover in an accident or during panic maneuvers. Placing a load on the roof of the van compounds the problem. In more than 80 percent of fatal 15-passenger van accidents, the vans rolled over.
The Office of Risk Management has also acknowledged that additional safety problems with 12- and 15- passenger vans include:
- The shift in the center of gravity due to an increased load also makes it more difficult to keep control of the van during panic maneuvers.
- As the van’s load is increased, the additional weight requires additional stopping distances.
- The width of the van diminishes the room in its lane.
- The length of the van requires longer distances to change lanes, back up, and make turns.
The NHTSA and the Office of Risk Management have both issued recommendations with regard to the use of 12- and 15-passenger vans, including that they should be operated by trained, experienced drivers, that occupants should wear seat belts at all times, and that tires be checked for proper inflation and adequate tread. (read more about additional dangers from aging tires.
Lawsuits against van manufacturers, however, have claimed that they have long known of the vans’ design defects, including their instability and tendency to roll over. If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed or injured in a 12- or 15-passenger van accident, please email or call us consult with an experienced accident attorney capable of handling the complexities of large passenger van accident claims.