A passenger van accident is capable of causing major loss of life, especially when fully loaded. These vehicles were originally designed to hold cargo, and their extended size allows them to accommodate up to 15 riders. However, these vehicles were not made to hold people, and when transporting several occupants, the vehicle’s design flaws can result in a serious crash. Unfortunately, automakers are not interested in improving the safety of these transport vehicles, so drivers must be extra cautious when operating them.
WHEN IS A PASSENGER VAN ACCIDENT MOST LIKELY TO OCCUR?
The central design flaw in these vehicles is how their center of gravity shifts when full. When transporting a full load of riders, the vehicle’s center of gravity moves to the back. This can lead to the driver fishtailing and rolling over if he over-steers slightly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released several alerts regarding the rollover problems associated with passenger vans. The NHTSA has come to this conclusion using a number of studies that show a five-fold increase in rollover risk when the vehicle is full of riders. Even when only a single rider is in the vehicle in addition to the driver, the chances of a rollover increase by nearly 20 percent.
What’s worse, when these vehicles are involved in a wreck, they are usually not deemed crashworthy for people. They were designed with cargo in mind, so there are few safety precautions present for human occupants. This results in ejections and more serious injuries.
HOW SERIOUS CAN A PASSENGER VAN ACCIDENT BE?
Since the early 1990s, there have been approximately 1,200 fatal accidents involving these vehicles, and hundreds of serious injuries as well. This may not seem like a significant number, but there only 500,000 of these vehicles on the road. The incidence rate of serious and fatal injuries, therefore, is alarmingly high.
It’s so high that federal law prohibits the sale of these vehicles to any organization that plans to use them to transport minors. Buyers are generally not alerted to this law upon purchasing a vehicle, however, so they may unknowingly put children in danger. This was the case in Birmingham, Alabama, where a passenger carrying six high school cheerleaders rolled over and ejected five of them from the vehicle. Two of the cheerleaders were killed, and another was paralyzed.
Because they are involved in so many serious crashes and come with serious design flaws, some organizations are urging authorities to consider passenger vans defective. Automakers, primarily Ford and Chevy, insist that their vehicles are safe, ignoring the mounting evidence to the contrary. What’s particularly tragic is how many of these accidents could have been avoided with a simple addition to the vehicle. By retrofitting them with dual rear wheels, the risk of rollover can be almost completely mitigated. Automakers have refused to make this simple change, however, standing by idly while people are killed and injured in their vehicles every year.