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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.

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 driven by experienced, licensed drivers who operate this type of vehicle on a regular basis. A commercial driver’s license is ideal. It’s important to know that 15-passenger vans handle differently than cars, especially when fully loaded.
  • Attention: Stay focused on the task of safe driving by being well rested, never using a handheld phone at the wheel, and limiting conversation with other passengers. Drivers shouldn’t drive more than 8 hours per day.
  • Speed: Always obey the posted speed limit, and reduce your speed as needed based on road or weather conditions. Remember that 15-passenger vans require additional braking time and cannot handle abrupt maneuvers the way cars can.
  • 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.
  • 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. Check the driver’s side door pillar or the owner’s manual for the recommended tire size and pressure. Recommended tire pressure may be different for front and back tires.
  • Spares: All tires weaken with age—even unused tires; avoid using an old spare on your 15-passenger van. Used 15-passenger vans may come with dangerous spare tires that are many years old. Check a tire’s age by finding its Tire Identification Number (TIN) on the tire’s sidewall. The last four digits of the TIN indicate the week and year the tire was made (e.g., 1010 = March 2010).
  • Occupancy: Never allow more than 15 people to ride in a 15-passenger van. Fill the seats from front to back: 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. 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% underinflated. The TPMS then warns the driver of the issue. With nearly 11% 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 of 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 here.

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