Safety of 15-Passenger Vans Questioned After Two Recent Deadly Crashes

Just as federal transportation officials had launched an investigation into a single-vehicle crash of a 15-passenger vehicle that killed 8 and injured 10 in Florida, another accident involving this same type of vehicle – this time in Georgia – resulted in three deaths and nine injuries. Three of those injured were listed in critical condition.
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The Florida crash happened on a rural highway shortly after midnight as a group of 18 church-goers were on their way home from a religious revival. Among the 10 injured was a 4-year-old child, who was not harnessed in a proper child safety seat.

In the Georgia case, which occurred about 65 miles northeast of Atlanta, the crash occurred around 7 a.m. when the driver of a van carrying band members from several heavy metal bands fell asleep at the wheel, careened off the road and struck a tree.

Whether driver error is determined to be the primary cause of these tragic accidents, we do know that 15-passenger vans, which are a popular mode of transportation – particularly in the summer – have a long history of safety concerns.

The number of people who utilize 15-passenger vans increases in the spring and summer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These range from church and musical groups to school organizations, senior citizen groups and even large families.

These vehicles are known to have a particular issue with rollovers, though that is not alleged to be the case in either of the two most recent incidents. Still, it’s worth noting that an NHTSA analysis of crashes occurring between 2003 and 2007 showed a 15-passenger van with 10 or more people was three times more likely to rollover than if it was carrying five passengers or fewer. This is extremely troubling considering this vehicle is marketed to the public as safe for up to 15 passengers.

Most of the newer-model vehicles come equipped standard with stability controls – and that helps. But many of the older vans are still in use.

The tires too are known to wear down more easily, and the NHTSA estimates at least 30 percent of these vans have at least one tire that is under-inflated to a significant degree.

Beyond that, the vans operate differently than other smaller vehicles, yet require no commercial vehicle training. Operators often have no real experience operating the vehicles, and on top of that are asked to do so on long stretches, often at night, which contributes to the problem of driver fatigue.

That was what was alleged in the Georgia case. The driver, who survived, reportedly fell asleep after he’d been driving all night. The three who died were reportedly ejected from the vehicle.

Less than than two weeks earlier in the Florida case, the driver reportedly missed a stop sign and lost control of the vehicle before it struck a water-filled ditch, ejecting a number of the 18 passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its own investigation of that wreck – something it rarely does – because of the type of accident and the high number of fatalities. In that case, the driver was among those killed in the crash.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Van carrying heavy metal bands involved in deadly NE Ga. wreck, April 6, 2015, Staff Report, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

More Blog Entries:
Lemley v. Wilson – Liability in Roadside Work Crew Death Case, March 29, 2015, Greenville Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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