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Consumer Advisory for 15-Passenger Vans Useless; NHTSA Should Seek Vehicle Redesign, Develop Safety Standards

April 15, 2002

Consumer Advisory for 15-Passenger Vans Useless; NHTSA Should Seek Vehicle Redesign, Develop Safety Standards

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Despite mounting evidence that 15-passenger vans have a high tendency to roll over, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today merely issued a second ineffectual warning, telling consumers to be careful and wear their seat belts. The agency also said it is considering requiring warning labels to be placed on the vehicles? dashboards. These measures are woefully inadequate.

Fifteen-passenger vans have a high center of gravity, making them more likely to roll over with each person who climbs in. The more they are loaded down with passengers or cargo, the more dangerous the vans become. These vans are used frequently by schools, churches and other groups to transport groups to sports games and other events. They also are often driven by people who are unfamiliar with the characteristics of the vehicles.

A verbal admonishment to “wear your seatbelt” will do nothing to protect these passengers. Even a warning label would only shield auto manufacturers from liability, allowing them to argue that they aren?t responsible for deaths and injuries sustained in rollover crashes because the drivers and passengers were duly warned.

There?s a lot NHTSA could do. In the short term, NHTSA should issue an advisory warning that the vans should carry less than five people, including the driver. Also, agency Administrator Jeffrey Runge should call on auto manufacturers to immediately discontinue current designs and redesign the vans to make them safe.

In the long term, NHTSA should aggressively test the vans, both fully and lightly loaded, under the real world tests to be developed by November 2002 as required by the 2000 TREAD Act. The agency also should speed up its development of roof crush standards and other crashworthiness rules addressing such things as pretension belts and side impact air bags to protect occupants when a vehicle rolls over.

A year ago, NHTSA issued a “research note” documenting that 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had three times the rollover ratio of those with fewer than 10 occupants. After a year, the agency has done nothing but issue another warning. NHTSA owes the public more.