Get your students back to school safely.
Understanding the risks of 15-passenger vans.
by Bethany Peak
Does your nonprofit organization use 15-passenger vans? If so, you may be violating federal law and exposing your organization to liabilty. Worse, you may be endangering the lives of your passengers.
Although they are often used by churches, preschools, and private schools to transport children to and from school, camps, and field trips, several safety issues exist specific to 15-passenger vans, especially the propensity of the vans to rollover. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk of 35% when loaded with 10 to 15 passengers, and the risk increases to 70% when loaded with 16 or more passengers. Due to these inherent dangers, the NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have issued extensive warnings against the use of 15-passenger vans and recommended safety guidelines when the vans are used.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation states that 15-passenger vans should never be used for transporting schoolchildren because they are “non-conforming vehicles” that fail to meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, including rollover protection, passenger seating and crash protection, pedestrian safety devices, mirrors that provide drivers with a full view of the front and sides of the danger zone, emergency exits, and fuel system integrity.
Several consumer advisories have been issued by the NHTSA, warning of the vans’ dangers and urging consumers not to use the vans. Many insurance companies, including those specializing in insuring churches, church groups, and schools, recommend their clients not transport children in such vans and may even refuse to provide coverage for the vans. And, in response to the vans’ known dangers, Congress has issued federal warnings and passed laws prohibiting or limiting their use altogether. Federal law prohibits the selling, buying, or leasing of a 15-passenger van if it is to be used to transport school students. Further, schools face liability under federal law for knowingly using a vehicle that does not conform to federal safety standards when “used significantly” to transport students to and from school and school-related events. Whether such use is “significant” is determined on a case-by-case basis, focusing on the vehicle’s intended use.
Due to the inherent dangers of 15-passenger vans, it is best to eliminate their use altogether. If your organization currently uses 15-passenger vans, we recommend you explore safer alternatives. Until then, be sure to take the following measures:
- Vehicles are properly maintained;
- Drivers are fully trained, experienced, and licensed (with a CDL);
- Drivers are well rested;
- The van is not overloaded;
- The vehicle is inspected before every trip, paying particular attention to the tires;
- Properly sized tires are being used;
- Tires are properly inflated and there are no signs of wear (See the owner’s manual for correct tire size and inflation pressure information);
- Side mirrors are adjusted; and
- Passengers are buckled up!
We also recommend adoption of a policy and procedure manual that includes a self-inspection checklist and outlines the requirements for use, maintenance, training, and inspection. For more information about the use, risks, and regulations regarding 15-passenger vans, or for help crafting a policy, contact us today.