Does your church own a 15-passenger van? Does the church use it to transport children, youth, and adults for retreats, mission trips, choir tours or other programs? Many of you will answer YES to these questions. If you do, then you need some up to date information about the safety of these vehicles and the risks associated with the use of them.
In early 2001, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued a consumer safety advisory regarding the safety of 15 passenger vans. Their advisory concluded that these vans have a rollover rate that increases nearly seven times when they are driven with more than fifteen passengers. Many owners of these vehicles are unaware that they were actually designed to carry cargo rather than passengers and thus, they are not always equipped with safety features that are included in small school buses. Even when the fifteen -passenger van is carrying only ten or more passengers, the rollover rate is three times greater than the rollover rate would be for a van loaded with fewer than ten persons. During the summer of 2001, there were several horrible rollover crashes that involved church groups. In response, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration REISSUED its consumer safety advisory in April 2002. If your congregation uses a fifteen passenger van for church trips, go to the NHTSA website www.nhtsa.dot.gov to see the text of the consumer safety advisory. You will also be able to get a copy of the NHTSA pamphlet, “Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans” at the website.
Even if you have been unaware of the NHTSA’s efforts to warn owners of the risks associated with use of these vans, your church’s insurance company has most likely become aware as a result of claims being made after injuries have occurred. If your congregation is contemplating a trip using a van, or is contemplating purchasing a new vehicle for church use, then call with your insurance company before you purchase the vehicle or take the trip for more detailed guidelines for safe vehicle use. A few of the guidelines recommended by the NHTSA include loading fewer than ten occupants, loading occupants only from the front of the van, require each occupant to wear a seat belt at all times, no loading of cargo on the roof of the van, use only well rested drivers, use only drivers who have had specific training on the use of these vehicles, inspect the tires monthly for proper inflation and wear, and keep the gas tank full.
The Federal Highway Administration of the Department of Transportation is another source of useful information regarding safe and proper use of church vehicles. Visit their website at www.fhwa.dot.gov and find information regarding regulations applicable to nonbusiness private motor carriers of passengers. Churches, scouts, and charitable institutions that purchase or lease buses for sponsored activities will generally fall into this category. Therefore, having knowledge of the FHWA regulations and their possible application to your church is a valuable component of your risk management plan.