15-Passenger Vans


Whether to drive children to daycare, older people to senior citizen events, athletic teams to sporting events, employees in work carpools, or teenagers to youth programs, 15-passenger vans are in high demand and are prevalent on our nation’s roads. However, these cumbersome vehicles can pose a safety risk to inexperienced van drivers and other road users. In this section, we recommend van drivers insist that all occupants wear seat belts at all times; that drivers of 15-passenger vans are trained and experienced; tires are checked at least once a week, using the manufacturer’s recommended pressure levels; and no loads are placed on the roof of the vehicle.

15-Passenger Vans
The Topic

Safety Precautions

While a 15-passenger van is convenient, it does not necessarily drive like a minivan. Drivers and passengers must use caution to minimize the risks associated with these vehicles. When driving a 15-passenger van, drivers need to take the following safety precautions:

  • Experience: Fifteen-passenger vans should only be operated by experienced drivers to provide the safest environment for the driver and the passengers. An experienced driver is someone who operates these vehicles on a regular or semi-regular basis. Having experience driving 15-passenger vans is imperative because these vehicles handle differently than passenger cars, especially when fully loaded. The driver should possess a valid driver’s license for his/her State of residence (a commercial driver’s license is preferred).
  • Attention: The driver should be well-rested and attentive to driving at all times. Cell phone use by the driver while the van is in motion is illegal in certain States. The driver should also limit conversation with other passengers, and drive time should be limited to 8 hours per 24-hour period.
  • Speed: Drive at a safe speed based on driving conditions. The driver should never exceed the posted speed limit. Always slow down if the roads are wet or icy; 15-passenger vans do not respond well to abrupt steering maneuvers and require additional braking time.
  • Seat Belts: All occupants need to wear seat belts at all times. Inspect seat belts regularly and replace any missing, broken or damaged belts and/or buckles. An unrestrained 15-passenger-van occupant involved in a single-vehicle crash is approximately four times more likely to be killed than a restrained occupant (FARS 2007-2016 files).
  • Tire Pressure: Inspect the tires and check tire pressure before each use. A van’s tires, including the spare tire, need to be properly inflated and the tread should not be worn down. Excessively worn or improperly inflated tires can lead to a loss of vehicle control and possibly a rollover. Pressure for front and back tires may be different, and pressure is likely higher than that required for car tires. A placard on the driver’s side door pillar or the owner’s manual lists manufacturer recommended tire size and pressure.
  • Spares: Avoid using old spares when replacing worn tires since all tires, even unused tires, weaken with age. Used 15-passenger vans may come with new-looking spare tires that are many years old and could be dangerous. Owners should follow manufacturer guidance on when to replace tires, including your spare. Learn how to determine the age of your tires.
  • Occupancy: Never allow more than 15 people to ride in a 15-passenger van. When the van is not full, passengers should sit in seats that are in front of the rear axle.
  • Cargo: Cargo should be placed forward of the rear axle; avoid overloading the van or placing any loads on the roof. See the vehicle owner’s manual for maximum weight of passengers and cargo and to determine towing capability.
  • Size: A 15-passenger van is substantially longer and wider than a car, and thus requires more space to maneuver. It also requires additional reliance on the side-view mirrors for changing lanes.

Driver Assistance Technologies

Driver assistance technologies  provide consumers with vehicle innovations that save lives. These new technologies, including electronic stability control, forward collision warning, and lane assist are capable of eliminating 94 percent of fatal crashes involving human error. In fact, thanks to electronic stability control, rollover is no longer a danger for newer 15-passenger vans. Learn how other driver assistance technologies can help keep you and your passengers safe in a van.

NHTSA In Action

NHTSA is dedicated to promoting safe behaviors on our nation’s roads

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) was signed into law on August 10, 2005. Under Title X, Subtitle C, Section 10309 of the law, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to require testing of 15-passenger vans as part of NHTSA’s NCAP rollover resistance program. Previously, rollover had been proven to be one of the most significant dangers for 15-passenger vans, with the risk increasing dramatically as the number of occupants increased from fewer than 5 to more than 10.

That same year, NHTSA established a new safety standard requiring tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) for light vehicles to help prevent tire failure (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 138, Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems). The safety standard applies to vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less, including buses and 15-passenger vans, and requires manufacturers to install a four-tire TPMS that detects whether a tire is more than 25 percent underinflated. The TPMS then warns the driver of the issue. With nearly 11 percent of fatal 15-passenger-van rollover crashes attributed to tire failure, the TPMS safety standard proves to be a significant safety advancement for these vehicles.

In 2008, NHTSA published a Research Note providing a descriptive assessment the fatalities of occupants of 15-passenger vans using 1997-2006 Fatality Analysis Reporting System data. Of specific interest are those that occurred in single-vehicle rollovers. This research is available at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/CMSWeb/index.aspx.