Modify Your 15-Passenger Van

Certain alterations can help make vans safer

The hazards of 15-passenger vans have been widely publicized, but more than 670,000 were still on the road in 2012, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

New 15-passenger vans come equipped with electronic stability control systems, automatic tire pressure monitoring systems, anti-lock brakes, and other safety features that help address their risk of rolling over, as long as one follows these 15-passenger van guidelines. However, many older models don't have this technology. If your organization cannot afford to replace its vans this year, it’s important that you take immediate steps to minimize the risk to your ministry. 

Remove the Rear Seat

More than a decade ago, Brotherhood Mutual commissioned a report by Lewis Collin Moore, a consulting engineer and physicist, on how to reduce the rollover risks associated with 15-passenger vans. He concluded that the quickest, most inexpensive way to reduce rollover risk in a 15-passenger van is to remove the rear seat. Doing so reduces the van’s capacity to 11 passengers and distributes weight in front of the rear axle. 

A 2004 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the odds of rollover for a 15-passenger van increased more than 400 percent when fully loaded, compared with a driver traveling alone. Fully loaded vans are harder to control during typical collision-avoidance maneuvers because passengers’ weight raises the center of gravity and shifts it to the rear.

Enhance the Suspension

Suspension stabilization devices improve a driver’s ability to control the van during emergency lane changes and sudden maneuvers. Several products on the market promise to improve handling and reduce the sway that can cause rollovers. They include Hellwig anti-sway bars and helper springs, Roadmaster Active Suspension, and SuperSprings. These three products can be installed in a few hours by qualified mechanics.

Roadmaster Active Suspension performed well during independent tests at the Transportation Research Center in Ohio. During one test, a standard 15-passenger van traveling 23 miles an hour went on two wheels and nearly overturned while making a fishhook turn (similar to a U-turn). An identical van fitted with Roadmaster Active Suspension kept all four wheels on the ground when making the same turn at 25 miles an hour.

While they don’t promise to eliminate rollovers, suspension enhancements can significantly improve a van’s safety. However, enhancing the suspension system doesn’t eliminate the need to remove the rear seat and follow safety guidelines, such as such as inspecting tires before each trip and requiring all passengers to wear seat belts.

Brotherhood Mutual offers additional safety help for ministries. Download:

Review 15-Passenger Van Safety Guidelines

Download our 15-Passenger Van Safety Checklist >>

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program. Your organization is responsible for compliance with all applicable laws.