If your church owns one or more 15-passenger vans, there are a number of legal concerns that you should understand, including the following:
- 15-passenger vans are prone to roll over, and this risk increases dramatically when they are heavily loaded with passengers and luggage. In 2001 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a "consumer advisory" that documents this risk. This advisory was reissued in 2002, in part because "the summer of 2001 saw several tragic rollover crashes involving religious groups on trips." It was reissued again in 2004 and 2005. It is important for church leaders to be familiar with these advisories, and with NHTSA recommendations to reduce the rollover risk (www.nhtsa.gov).
- Churches that continue to use 15-passenger vans to transport people are assuming an increased risk of liability unless they take specific steps to reduce the risk. Ten specific recommendations made by the NHTSA are mentioned in the complete special report, "Reducing the Risk of Transportation Accidents," (Church Law & Tax Report, 2006), along with 15 additional precautions churches can take to reduce the risks associated with the use of 15-passenger vans. If a court concludes that a church's use of a 15-passenger van amounts to gross negligence, then the church may be assessed punitive damages (which are not covered under its general liability insurance policy) and the members of the church board may be personally liable.