January 19, 2018

Churches and Missions groups keep vans in spite of dangers

While 15-seater vans are illegal to sell to public schools, they are being sold to private schools, day-care centers, senior centers, churches, missionary groups, etc. In 2005, I received a phone call from the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB is an independent agency that investigates accidents (air, sea, train, motor vehicle) and make recommendations to NHTSA, Federal and state governement agencies. The director thanked me for the Van Angels website and encouraged me to continue to educate the Christian ministries about the dangers of the vans.

The director went on to explain his frustration with the 15-passenger vans. In the past few years, the NTSB has investigated three (3) separate 15-passenger van rollover accidents and made recommendations in all three cases. These recommendations include:

  • 2002 – A special drivers license endorsement should be required for anyone driving 10 or more passengers. Today, a person is required to get a commercial drivers license ONLY if they carry OVER 16 passengers. Driver’s would have to pass a special training program similar to the one provided by Guide One Insurance.
  • 2002 – Any vehicle carrying 10 or more passengers should meet Federal bus safety requirements. This include roof crush prevention and other safety features that are standard on school buses. Today, 15-passenger vans do NOT have to meet any Federal bus safety standards.
  • 2003 – NTSB recommends that NHTSA conducts standard rollover tests on all 15-passenger vans. Today, NHTSA does NO rollover testing because the vans weight over 6,200 pounds, which is the current limit of their rollover testing. NTSB recommends that all vehicles under 10,000 pounds be tested for rollover resistance, including the 15-passenger vans.
  • 2004 – That the states should regulate drivers of day-care centers. Today, anybody can drive day-care center children as long as they drive less than 16 kids at a time.

Read the entire NTSB report and their recommendations to NHTSA:

NTSB Safety Report: Evaluation of the Rollover Propensity of 15-passenger Vans (PDF)

According to an NTSB spokesman, about 80% of all NTSB recommendations are adopted by state & federal agencies, including National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA). Yet, as of today, NONE OF THE ABOVE NTSB RECOMMENDATIONS FOR 15-PASSENGER VANS HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED. Ironically, many of these recommendations have found their strongest opposition by the Christian Educators Assocation. In short, Christian schools, churches and missions groups have lobbied government officials to ignore the NTSB’s recommendations. They site various reasons for wanting their organizations to be able buy and use 15-passenger vans in spite of the known dangers.

Why would a Christian private school want to transport their kids in a van that has been outlawed by virtually every state in transporting public school children?

Here are some reasons why churches, private schools and missions groups continue to use the van in spite of the known dangers:

  • Many non-profit organizations buy 15-seater vans because they are the largest passenger vehicles that you can drive without a commercial drivers license. Nobody in their school, church or missions group has a commercial drivers license. Therefore, they get a non-professional volunteer to drive kids to events, exposing themselves and children to incredible risk.
  • They claim they cannot afford to replace the vans. Most of these organizations have not run any analysis on alternatives. Many larger non-profits have run the analysis and found alternatives to be substantially more cost effective. These alternatives include chartering buses for events, buying buses, buying fleets of mini-vans, or retrofitting existing 15-passenger vans with dual rear wheels as a transition strategy.
  • They say that the issue is not that big of a deal and besides, “God will protect them” in the event something does happen.
  • Most of these organizations buy these vans at a huge discount. Typically, a larger organization gets a written notice from their insurance carrier. The carrier notifies them that they will lose the insurance coverage on their entire fleet if they keep any of their 15-passenger vans. The larger organization make a business decision to sell the vans at a deep discount, as low as $1,500. The used car salesperson will then turn around and sell that same van to a small non-profit organization for less than $5,000. The small organization thinks they have inherited, “a huge blessing from God.”
  • Many small organizations receive 15-passenger vans as donations from individuals. These individuals give these vans away to limit their own liability. Many actually know the dangers of the vans or have lost their insurance coverage, so a donation is a quick way to eliminate a problem and get a nice write-off.

BOTTOM LINE: Many small organizations believe the “advantages” above outweigh the potential dangers. Many have not done any sophisticated analysis of the issues, they just hope nothing bad will happen.

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