While the feds and state governments have cracked down on non-conforming vans that have high rates of roll-over crashes, especially when these vehicles are used for school-related trips, new research breaks down the dynamics of these vehicles to illustrate how dangerous they can be.
BrightFleet.com, an online hazard perception evaluation and driver risk mitigation service, published the white paper this month to assist fleet and risk managers in understanding the relationship between company and driver and the ways in which they can protect their assets. This transcends merely a school district's or company's financials and includes what BrightFleet calls "the most precious cargo," or people.
For student transporters, child safety is at stake. Included in SAFETEA-LU, the current federal highway funding law that expired at the end of September 2009 and that has since been extended by Congress a half-dozen times to keep current state projects afloat, is a provision that closed a previous loophole in the Motor Vehicle Act when it came to the purchase of 12- or 15-passenger vans for student transportation because of their instability in crashes. Dealerships had been prohibited from selling the vehicles to school districts, but the language stopped short of banning the schools from purchasing them.
Meanwhile, the new six-page paper breaks down the design of 15-passenger vans, which BrightFleet comments are "deemed the most unstable, most dangerous vehicles on the road." The research provides a history of the 15-passenger van, summarizes major roll-over crashes and lists specific design problems of both 12- and 15-passenger vans, such as the fact these vehicles are top-heavy and longer than regular vans. BrightFleet also recommends safety policies, routine maintenance and driver training.
NTSB published a study in October of 2002 titled "Evaluation of the Rollover Propensity of Fifteen-Passenger Vans." It urged all van drivers to obtain specific training on the handling and operation of these vehicles due to their inherent lack of stability when loaded to the level for which they were designed.
In December, both FMCSA and NHTSA sent a letter to state school superintendents remind them of the risks involved in using these non-conforming vehicles for any student transportation. Instead, the letter pushed the increased safety benefits of school bus construction.