Statement of Mark Smith
March 23, 2004
On June 30, 2002, I received a phone call from my pastor who said that Malori, my 17-year-old daughter, and nine other missionaries were involved in a serious van accident in Monterrey, Mexico. I immediately booked airline tickets for Monterrey. As we pulled out of the driveway to head to the airport, we received another phone call saying, “Malori died.” That phone call changed my life.
Malori and her missionary companions were traveling from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas, after a successful week of helping others. Just outside Monterrey, the left rear tire of their Ford E350 15-passenger van experienced a de-tread and the driver was unable to control the vehicle. Within seconds, the van rolled three times and landed upside down on the side of the highway. Malori was thrown from the van and died at the scene. Two of her missionary friends also died, and many others received severe injuries.
Weeks after the accident, we discovered that many similar rollover accidents have happened in Ford E350 15-seater vans. In fact, almost 800 people have died in 15-seater van rollover accidents in the past 10 years. Malori Aslan Smith, Bethany Bosarge and Jonnathan Lomelli had dedicated their lives to helping other people. Of all people, why did they have to die? For that matter, why do innocent people all over the country have to die prematurely in van accidents? These innocent people shared one thing in common: They all rode in a 15-passenger vans, which are inherently defective, rolling over at speeds as low as 33 mph while drivers are simply responding to emergency situations that are easily handled by other vehicles.
The families involved in our accident filed a lawsuit against Ford. After only two days of presenting evidence against the E350 van, Ford decided to settle with the families for an undisclosed amount. Rather than simply walk away from the situation, the families agreed to pool some of their money together to launch a non-profit organization to help prevent future 15-seater van accidents. This organization is called Van Angels (www.vanangels.org) and its mission is to help organizations that cannot afford to replace their vans. Van Angels will assist those organizations to make some of the changes that Ford should be making on its own vans. If Van Angels can prevent one family from having to receive a phone call similar to the one we received, then we have done our job.
Retrofitting existing vans, however, is only a Band-Aid on a very huge wound. There are 500,000 15-seater vans currently on the road, and Ford owns 80 percent of the market. Ford has known about the defects in their 15-seater vans but has chosen to ignore them. Quite frankly, it’s cheaper for Ford to settle lawsuits with victims’ families than to do the necessary recall to fix their vans. In the United States, it is illegal to sell these 15-seater vans to public schools. However, Ford can still sell and market these vehicles to day care centers, senior centers, churches and private schools. The auto industry has successfully lobbied to have these vans exempt from rollover testing that is required in all vehicles weighing 8,500 pounds or less. Since 15-seater vans, like the Ford E350 weigh 9,200 pounds, they aren’t even tested like every other vehicle. Yet Ford can sell them to an unsuspecting public as “meeting all government regulations,” knowing full well that they were never required to meet any federal guidelines.
We realize that these 15-passenger vans are among the most profitable vehicles sold today. We also realize that the “Goliath” auto lobbies will continue to compel Congress to exempt these vans from standard rollover testing. Meanwhile, every few weeks, another 15-passenger van will roll over, killing more innocent people.
We are here to speak on behalf of our children who have died, urging the House to join the Senate in passing this safety bill, which simply requires 15-passenger vans to pass the same safety requirements that are legally required for other vehicles. A positive vote will save lives of innocent children and seniors. Nobody wants to receive a phone call saying that their child was killed in a van rollover accident. With the help of Congress, phone calls like these will become history.