Van safety is an underrated concern that often gets overlooked during the rush to events or church activities. Everyone is busy. But by not focusing on some basics about church safety, some parishioners end up on the headlines instead of supporting their congregations or attending events. Headlines like these:
Many of the accidents we see are connected to 15-passenger vans. These vans have a history of rollover at higher speeds. Many accidents that involved these vans also are difficult to ensure passenger safety during accidents as some don't have full passenger restraints.
To support our customers, Loomis is offering some tips to help congregations plan better safety when using these types of vans for transportation. Please remember that the following tips are safety suggestions and guidelines only. You can find more detailed information at Brotherhood Mutual.
The Two Biggest Safety Concerns with Church Vans
Van Safety Issue #1: Tire Safety
Many church van accidents are directly related to tire age. The United States Department of Transportation recommends changing tires every 6-10 years regardless of the wear on the tire and rotating the tires at every oil change.
Tire age is an issue because tire materials break down over time, even for vehicles with low mileage. You can check the age of your tires based on a code that begins with DOT and includes 10-12 letters and numbers.
The last four numbers are the date of the tire material down to the nearest week.
The first pair of these four numbers identify the date of manufacture down to the nearest week (which ranges from “01” to “53”).
The last pair of numbers specify the year of manufacture.
This is a good way to determine age and make necessary replacements for tires on your church vehicles.
Continental Tires has an excellent guide on how to read the DOT code: Website.
Van Safety Issue #2: Weight Distribution
Vans that carry 15 passengers were originally built to carry cargo, not people. It was only later that they were modified to fit passengers, and they did this by simply stretching the van back over the rear wheel to accommodate an extra seat. Many older vans were never redesigned as people movers to handle the differences in weight distribution and balance stability when carrying passengers.
Carrying more than 10 passengers creates a greater risk for rollover because of the shift in gravity that occurs near the rear of the vehicle. Passenger vehicles also sit on single rear wheels which limits rear traction, so in an accident, passenger vans have a higher chance of fishtailing. Additionally, tempered glass in older vans also creates a greater risk of occupants being ejected from the vehicle in the event of an accident.
Some newer vans have installed safety equipment, like electronic stability control (ESC), but many older vans have this feature. Since September 1, 2011, ESC has been a required standard feature on passenger vans.
All of these issues create safety obstacles that drivers and owners should be aware of and each driver should be educated in how to look for and address safety concerns.
Understanding the Risk When Using a Passenger Van
If your church is considering a passenger van, there are a number of safety issues that you should check on the van. If the van lacks any of these features, don't buy the van. It may represent just too high a safety risk.
Watch for Ample Seat Belts
All 15 passenger vans should be equipped with one set of seatbelts per person. Passengers will be more likely to survive a rollover crash when buckled in, so it's also suggested that drivers do a safety check before starting their trip to ensure every passenger is seat belted properly.
Remove the Rear Seat
The problem with the design of most 15-person passenger vans is that the vans were extended too far over the back wheel without consideration for how the van would react in a crash. With the additional weight and only a single axle with a single set of tires, church vans have a history of fishtailing if they're forced to swerve at higher speeds.
Because of the risks of having too much weight distributed to the rear of the vehicle, churches are encouraged to remove the rear seat and load from the front to the back. We also recommend that they limit their only nine people to a van.
Watch What Load and Tow
Because weight is a major safety factor in the rear of most passenger vans. we recommend that you limit the amount of equipment you load in the back of a van. Basically, avoid packing luggage and equipment in the back of the vehicle. Also, do not tow anything behind the van. It is also safe practice to not place weighted items on top of the van.
All drivers should receive adequate training for the operation of 15-passenger vans and should have some drive time before taking the vehicles out to drive for the church. Speed is a safety concern as well so all drivers should be aware and vigilant to drive at safe speeds during weather events. These vehicles create challenges to sudden lane changes and stops.
Maybe, Just Don't Buy a "Non-Dually"
One of the biggest safety issues with 15-passenger vans goes back to the single set of tires in the back of the van. In a hard turn or slide situation, the additional weight focused against those back wheels causes the wheels to lose traction. The lack of road grip in a "non-dually" can cause a slide, resulting in a higher chance of losing control and flipping over.
Investing in a "minibus" with two sets of wheels on the rear axle is a better, safer solution for churches. Mini-buses are designed for more weight and with passenger safety in mind.
For the cost, churches could even consider a reconditioned, used school bus that's updated and customized for your church. Used mini-buses tend to sell for less than $10,000. When you consider the cost of upgrades and any additional work, a church could have a safer vehicle for less money than buying a new passenger van.
Why Doesn't the Federal Government Regulate Passenger Vans?
The federal government does regulate passenger vans, but the more stringent safety regulations only pertain to public schools. Churches (and other groups like daycare facilities) fall under looser restrictions because they're a private entity or don't specifically transport children.
If you still want to consider buying a passenger van, consider ensuring that the van and your drivers adhere to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration rules on passenger vans: https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/15-passenger-vans.
Following more stringent rules will ensure your church van operation is safer for your church and cheaper when buying insurance.
Contact Loomis Insurance for More Information
These are just a few considerations for the operation of 15-passenger vans as church vehicles. Some of these suggestions may require extra time and expense but could save the church in lives lost and serious injuries to church members.
As always, feel free to contact the Loomis Insurance Agency with any additional questions regarding van safety or go online for further information and vehicle risk management consideration.