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15 Passenger Van Safety

15-Passenger Van Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a warning concerning the safe operation of 15-passenger vans because they are almost three times more likely to roll over when they carry 10 or more passengers. Since 15-passenger vans have a higher probability of overturning with increased passenger loads, caution needs to be exercised while operating these vehicles. The NY Times reported, and Rick Shupp, Director of the Office of Risk Management for the University, confirms that the University of Virginia has banned the rental of 15-passenger vans and is in the process of phasing out existing 15-passenger van use. Don LeMond, Virginia Department of the Treasury’s Director of the Division of Risk Management states that vans that are being used in schools and colleges are gradually being taken out of service and future purchases of such vehicles will diminish. The NHTSA press advisory also states that 80 percent of the people who died in single-vehicle 15-passenger van rollovers last year were not wearing seat belts. Ninety-two percent of belted passengers survived.

Transportation by van is often determined to be the most economical means of travel when taking trips with groups too large for car travel and too small for bus travel. Agencies may not have budgets necessary to rent a “Motorcoach” and are left with no other viable alternative. The 15-passenger van’s unsafe record requires the sponsoring agency to take special steps to minimize the risk of this type of transportation.

If your agency’s travel activity includes the use of 15-passenger van transportation, you should take extra precautions to assure safe travel in these vehicles. Several published articles indicate that factors such as falling asleep, veering off of the road, driver inexperience, and traveling at inappropriate speeds are greater risk factors than normal in van rollovers. Inclement weather has been shown also to be a disproportionate contributor to van accidents.

Agencies should consider requiring motor vehicle record checks or prohibit inexperienced drivers from operating these vehicles. The combination of an inexperienced driver (less than three years experience or under age 21) and the propensity of the vehicle to turn over when fully loaded could spell disaster.

Users of the 15-passenger vans need to take special steps to ensure that passengers are protected. Many times, inexperienced drivers are not equipped with the knowledge or skill to react safely when quick action is necessary. Accident reports have found driver inexperience and fatigue to be factors leading to passenger injuries. Reports also show that passengers have been thrown from vans because they were not wearing seat belts.

Because agencies may not have the funding to provide other, safer means of transportation, the following tips and suggestions may help increase safety and decrease the potential for 15-passenger van accidents.

Tips and “best practices” to aid in the safe operation of these vehicles include:

Prior to assigning the vehicle:

  1. Have a vehicle usage policy specifically stating authorized users of the vans.
  2. Prohibit drivers with less than three years experience and those under 21 from operating vans.
  3. Perform motor vehicle record checks on all drivers. Update information regularly. Drivers should have:
    1. No more than one moving violation, or one accident within the last 12 months.
    2. No alcohol related violations or traffic stops.
  4. Require authorized drivers to participate in driver training prior to operating the vehicle and ensure yearly compliance and updating occurs. **
  5. Enlist the aid of drivers with CDL (commercial drivers’ license) qualifications (although a CDL is not required to operate a 15-passenger van).
  6. Do not allow drugs or alcohol consumption in vehicles.

Prior to loading the van:

  1. Use an inspection log and document daily vehicle inspection before using the vehicle. Note defects and correct prior to departure. Have defects corrected prior to using the vehicle.
  2. Make sure the gas tank is as full as possible to reduce rollover potential. (Maintain a full tank as much as is possible while traveling.)
  3. Take weather reports into consideration. Curtail travel when conditions are hazardous.
  4. Reserve the front seat for someone that will remain awake and monitor the driver and driving.

Loading the vehicle:

  1. Verify the van is properly loaded; don’t overload. Check tires for proper inflation based on load carried.
  2. Do not transport objects on top of the van; this increases the likelihood of a rollover.
  3. If the van is not full, passengers should occupy seats in front of the rear axle.
  4. Prohibit trailer attachments.

Driver safety tips:

  1. Rotate drivers when going on long trips. Drivers should also know their limitations. Should fatigue occur, inform the other driver or go to a safe location and rest. Good rules of thumb:
    1. Have one certified driver per every 400 miles to be driven.
    2. Do not allow more than eight hours of continuous travel.
    3. Have the driver rest one hour for every two consecutive hours of driving.
    4. Do not allow any driver to drive more than four hours a day.
    5. Do not allow drivers to drive between 12:00 am and 6:00 am, without special permission.
  2. Van drivers should also understand the handling characteristics of the vehicle when loaded, especially fully loaded.

Additional safety tips for travel:

  1. ALWAYS wear seat belts. This includes both passengers and drivers.
  2. Use headlights.
  3. Van should be equipped with high quality rear tires with appropriate treads.
  4. Drive responsibly, cautiously and conservatively. Allow sufficient time for travel.

Make sure that your agency takes positive steps to protect 15-passenger van occupants. Develop and enforce vehicle safety regulations, and maintain the safety of operators and passengers through education, and program audits.

**For more information about driver training, contact Kristie McClaren at 804-786-4128.


Melton, D., Money, D. (2001, November). Technology Can Fuel Fleet Safety. Risk & Insurance, 28,30.

National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, (2000). Position Paper- Vans Used for School Transportation. Retrieved August 2, 2002, from

NHTSA Interpretation File: Non-conforming Vans. Retrieved August 2, 2002, from

Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans. Retrieved August 2, 2002, from

Reynolds, Y.S. (2002). Phasing out the Use of 15-Passenger Vans. Retrieved August 2, 2002, from the University of Virginia, Office of Risk Management Web Site:

Risk Advisory. Retrieved August 2, 2002, from

Treaster, J. (2002). Some Insurers Halt Coverage for Vans linked to Rollovers. The NY Times. Retrieved August 27,2002 from

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