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Van Rollover Crash in Utah a Tragedy; Schools and Community Groups Should Not Use 15-Passenger Vans

Sept. 27, 2005

Van Rollover Crash in Utah a Tragedy; Schools and Community Groups Should Not Use 15-Passenger Vans

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President*

Monday’s deadly 15-passenger crash in Utah underscores how extremely dangerous these vans are and prompts us to once again call for universities, churches, seniors’ homes and other groups to discontinue their use until they are made safer.

In the crash, the driver of the van lost control when a tire blew. The van rolled into a ravine, ejecting all 11 passengers. Nine have died. Most of the passengers were freshmen at Utah State University. The school endured a less fatal tragedy in 2001, when six members of the men’s volleyball club were injured in a 15-passenger van crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is in the U.S. Department of Transportation, has warned the public that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer to five to more than 10. In May, the agency reissued a consumer advisory for 15-passenger van users for the third time in four years. GuideOne Insurance has recommended that the vans carry no more than 10 passengers, that people sit in the forward seats first, and that the rear seats be removed to increase the van’s stability. Some insurance companies are even refusing to insure 15-passenger vans.

If the vans are used, they should be equipped with dual rear wheels.

Fortunately, Congress has finally taken action. In H.R. 3, the massive highway bill that Congress passed this summer, lawmakers mandated new rules to limit the propensity of passenger vehicles, including 15-passenger vans, to roll over. The bill also mandates an increase in the strength of vehicle roofs, which will help ensure that people involved in rollover crashes survive.

Unfortunately, the effects of these new rules on vehicles won’t be seen for five to seven years. In the meantime, schools and community organizations should avoid the vans altogether if they want to avoid tragedy.

*Joan Claybrook was administrator of NHTSA from 1977-1981.