Q&A: Should Our Vans Have Child Restraints?

State laws generally require children under a certain weight or height to be secured either in an infant car seat or in a booster seat.

Several of our Children’s Church volunteers have been transporting 2- to 12-year-olds in the church’s 15-passenger van without child restraints. We have some concern that children requiring safety seats shouldn’t be transported without these restraints. How can we protect our church in this situation?
This raises an important safety concern. Auto accidents are a major cause of injury and claims against ministries, and passenger safety should be an important part of every church’s risk management assessment. Should one of your church’s 15-passenger vans be involved in a collision resulting in injury to the children being transported, your ministry would almost certainly be found to be partially liable for the harm sustained if the children riding in the vans have not been properly secured. For this reason, it’s strongly recommended that all children be placed in appropriate child safety seats.
It’s important to note that federal and state laws have been enacted to protect children who ride in motor vehicles. Federal laws deal primarily with transportation to and from school, and with buses and larger vehicles. At the state level, laws vary from one state to another, but they generally require children who are under a certain weight or height to be secured either in an infant car seat or in a booster seat.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s website has useful information on child safety seats.
For additional information, see our downloadable resource, Safety on the Road. It includes many helpful articles to further highlight safety considerations for transporting children for church-related activities. You might also contact a state police office within your state for more information specific to local child passenger safety requirements. Finally, consult a local attorney to be sure that you are appropriately complying with all applicable federal and state laws relating to auto passenger safety.
One other point that is raised by your question relates to the use of 15-passenger vans in transporting passengers to or from ministry activities. Over the past several years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued several safety alerts regarding 15-passenger vans. In particular, it’s been said that these vans have a much higher incidence of roll-over than other vehicles, particularly when fully loaded.
In light of the NHTSA safety alerts, it’s suggested that churches consider either replacing their 15-passenger vans with smaller 12-passenger vans, or with more stable 15- or 16-passenger mini-buses that are now available. If the church decides to continue using 15-passenger vans, it is strongly recommended that no more than 12 occupants be permitted in the van at the same time, and that they not be permitted to sit in the rear seat.
Should you have questions regarding the application of the NHTSA 15-passenger van safety alerts, you’ll want to contact a local attorney who can advise and assist you in your safety and risk management evaluation.

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