12 and 15-passenger Vans Are Convenient for Groups of People, but Have Unique Safety Issues

their designs, higher weights, higher centers of gravity, and use patterns can make these vehicles more prone to crashes

Consumer Advisory: NHTSA Urges 15-Passenger Van Users to Always Check Tires
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January 20, 2019

15-passenger and 12-passenger vans are very popular on our roadways. Whether it's moving children from daycare, taking senior citizens to events, athletic teams to sporting events, teenagers to youth programs or just transporting larger groups for church outings, these vans make it easy to move large numbers of people. But these vehicles have unique safety considerations and can be more deadly than a typical vehicle, especially with low tire pressures or inexperienced drivers.

Fits more people, but more unstable

These vehicles are definitely convenient, and you'll hear that from anyone who has ever needed one. But these vans aren't your ordinary minivan. They have higher centers of gravity, much higher weights, take a lot more time to come to a stop, and can become very unstable during sudden movements. This translates into a vehicle that is much more difficult to drive and control, whether it be during normal driving, high winds, or in conditions that require sudden and rapid changes, such as emergency maneuvers.

Long service life means much older vehicles still on road

Many of these vehicles, because of how they are used, remain in service for a very long time and don't rack up the mileage typically daily drivers accrue. Consequently, these vehicles may be even more vulnerable to instability due to worn and degrading parts, which aren't often apparent unless the vehicle is thoroughly maintained or until something happens that pushes the parts past their mechanical limit, resulting in a loss of control.

vans modified for larger capacity behave unpredictably

Depending upon the year, make and model, these vehicles might be modified versions of smaller vans. Modified versions of vehicles have not gone through the stringent safety testing that was required for the original vehicles, meaning that how they will react in certain driving conditions is unpredictable. Modified vehicles may also lack sufficient side impact protection.

Tire Safety is very important for these vehicles

Regardless of vehicle age or mileage, tire safety is especially important for these vans given that they are up to five times more prone to rollover than SUVs and minivans when fully loaded. Making sure these vehicles are equipped with tires of the correct size, proper load rating, and at the proper tire pressure will help reduce the chance of a rollover crash. Tire pressure should be checked before each trip, especially given that a lot of weight on the rear from passenger loads can put extra stress on the rear tires

It is also important for operators to remember that tires degrade over time, even if the tread is not significantly worn. Therefore, older tires, including spare tires, should be replaced regularly. Unfortunately, many organizations that use these vans infrequently, such as churches, don't know this fact about tire safety. As a result, it's common for them to keep old, unsafe tires on the vans because no one operating them know about tire safety and tire facts.

Way vehicles operated and maintained crucial to safety

Because these vans behave differently from your typical passenger vehicle, inexperienced operators should not drive these vehicles. They can behave in unexpected ways, which can cause loss of control and a crash to the inexperienced driver. These vehicles should be driven by drivers who operate these vehicles on a regular basis.

You can reduce the risk of a crash by having the vehicle maintained properly and by ensuring an experienced driver is operating the vehicle at speeds and in a manner consistent with the vehicle's load. We all want to get to our destinations quickly, but driving at faster speeds means that it is easier to lose control and that the consequences of a crash will be more severe. Operating these vehicles more conservatively and giving slower and smoother accelerations and turns can keep them safer and more stable.

Newer safety systems prevent crashes and save lives

New vans are required to have modern safety systems, such as electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring systems, and three-point seat belts. But these vehicles stay on the road for a long time, which means that older vehicles without these systems are still on the road. Vehicles without these modern safety requirements are on average 50% more likely to rollover when fully loaded at highway speeds compared to newer vehicles. That risk goes up with vehicle age and speed.

If you have influence in the purchasing decision when looking for one of these vans, opt for newer vans that have these safety systems from the factory.

Safety Tips

  • If you are a passenger, make sure you buckle up for every trip. A majority of people killed in these vans are not wearing seat belts. About half of occupants in these vehicles are ejected during a crash.
  • Before each trip, 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 on the driver's side door pillar.
  • Tires should be the proper size, speed rating and load rating. Tires, including the spare, should be replaced regularly.
  • Never load the vehicle to capacity or overload the vehicle. The more weight you add, the more unstable the van becomes. A vehicle fully loaded with passengers might not be able to accept additional weight from cargo.
  • It may seem obvious, but drink and drive.
  • If you are an owner or responsible for the van, make sure it is regularly inspected and maintained. Suspension and steering components should be inspected regularly and replaced or repaired as necessary.
  • Drivers should be properly licensed and, more importantly, experienced in operating this type of vehicle..