Q: Our church needs a vehicle to help transport groups to and from events. I know past media coverage has suggested 15-passenger vans are unsafe, but with new designs and safety measures, are they now a viable option?
A: I have previously advised churches to avoid using 15-passenger vans. Let me make some observations about where things currently stand with these vehicles.
As you note, manufacturers of 15-passenger vans have integrated some new features in recent years. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) became standard in these vehicles in 2011. By 2018, many of these vehicles will include rearview cameras. And by 2022, like most other new vehicles hitting the roads, many will feature “forward collision alerts.”
Does the inclusion of these features now make 15-passenger vans safer for churches to use? It doesn’t appear so. None of these features address the core concerns with 15-passenger vans that were previously identified. These problems have persisted for years, prompting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue numerous alerts and advisories regarding the following problems, which contribute to dramatically higher rates of rollovers:
high centers of gravity
flat sides contributing to instability in crosswinds
seating configurations that place excess weight on left rear tire (due to walkway to the rear seats being on right side), contributing to instability
designed for the less rigorous standards of transporting cargo
width of stance (the distance between the two front tires or two rear tires)