Safety

Feds update 15-passenger van alerts

Posted on August 1, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Schools using 15-passenger vans were further warned of the inherent rollover risk of vans transporting students in lieu of traditional school buses.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new research on the controversial topic, while the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unveiled findings on two 2001 crashes that involved 15-passenger vans.

The warnings foreshadow the four-year anniversary of South Carolina’s “Jacob’s Law,” — lobbied by the parents of 6-year-old Jacob Strebler, who died after the van he was riding in crashed into an 18-wheel truck in 1994.

Between 1990 and 2002, 1,576 passenger vans were involved in fatal crashes. Of these, 349 involved rollover, according to NHTSA research.

As full capacity is reached on a non-conforming van, the burden of the weight usually hangs out beyond the rear axle, NHTSA reported. Rollover risk is also significantly increased at speeds over 50 miles per hour and on curved roads.

Tire deterioration is another cause for passenger van accidents. The NTSB’s findings on the two 2001 van accidents indicate that each was due to tire rot, age, under-use and/or improper inflation. The accidents caused the NTSB to recommend that van drivers nationwide receive extra training and that tires be regularly maintained.

Last May, another passenger van accident occurred in New Orleans after a tire blew out and the van flipped over. Two passengers were killed, and six were sent to local hospitals.

Federal law now prohibits the sale of new 12- and 15-passenger vans for school-related transportation of students in kindergarten through high school.

But despite agency warnings and the Jacob’s Law victory, which forced South Carolina’s private schools and child-care centers to buy only approved school buses by July 1, 2000, some schools reportedly continue to purchase used vans without government heed. Sometimes even illegal new van sales, as in Jacob Strebler’s case, go unnoticed until it’s too late.

— JACLYN ROCO

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