We were saddened to read the reports of a recent van accident in our area that took the lives of three teenagers from a Kansas congregation, and felt that it would be good to remind our church clients of some vital safety measures when using church vehicles for transportation, especially when operating 15-passenger vans. Please bear in mind that the following tips are safety suggestions and guidelines you can utilize and research in greater detail by going online to Brotherhood Mutual and perusing the articles and various risk management webinars and sample forms related to vehicle operation and safety.
1) Understanding Vehicle Safety Issues:
Tires - Tire age may directly relate to the dangers of blowouts or mechanical failures and often has nothing to do with how much they have been driven. The United States Department of Transportation recommends changing tires every 6-10 years regardless of the wear on the tire. The reason for this suggestion is that the materials break down over time and this occurs even if the vehicle is used on an occasional basis. 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 digits of this number indicate the number of week (out of 52) and the year that the vehicle was manufactured. This is a good way to determine age and make necessary replacements for tires on your church vehicles.
Weight Distribution - Vans that carry 15 passengers were originally built to carry cargo and later were designed to carry passengers, but the design of the vehicle was not sufficiently changed enough to handle the differences that occur with 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 to the rear. These vehicles also sit on single rear wheels which limits rear traction. Tempered glass in older vans also creates a greater risk for occupants to be ejected from the vehicle in the event of an accident. 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.
2) Understanding Risk Mitigation:
Seat Belts - All 15 passenger vans should be equipped with seatbelts so that passengers are more likely to survive a rollover crash.
Remove Rear Seat - Because of the risks with having too much weight distributed to the rear of the vehicle, churches are encouraged to remove the rear seat and be sure the van is loaded from the front to the back. VEHICLES SHOULD BE LIMITED TO NINE PASSENGERS.
Loading and Towing - Because weight is a major safety factor, please avoid packing luggage and equipment in the back of the vehicle and do not tow anything behind the van. It is also safe practice to not place weighted items on top of the van.
Driver Training - All drivers should receive adequate training for 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.
These are just a few considerations for 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 agency for any additional questions you may have regarding van safety or feel free to go online for further information and vehicle risk management consideration.