A style of van commonly used by church groups and college athletic teams received a safety warning Monday, after researchers found it was three times as likely to roll over when fully loaded.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also advising that the 15-passenger vans should only be operated by experienced drivers. Many times college students or volunteers for church and civic groups drive such vehicles.
The rare advisory from NHTSA comes as a result of a study of several fatal crashes involving college students and the vans. It was found that vans were three times as likely to roll over if there were ten or more passengers.
NHTSA found, that when fully loaded, the vans' center of gravity shifts up and to the back, increasing the risk of rollovers. Maneuvers made by panicked drivers only add to the danger.
"You have a vehicle that behaves entirely differently than when they are lightly loaded," said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson. "There is nothing inherently wrong with these vehicles as long as you understand those characteristics and take that in to account."
Last year four members of the Prairie View A&M University track team were killed when their van rolled over on the way to a meet. Seven others were seriously injured. Other rollover accidents involved the Kenyon College Swim Team and DePaul's women's track team.
A commercial driver's license is mandatory for anyone carrying more than 16 passengers, but there is no special license for drivers of the 15-passenger vans.
Federal law prohibits the purchase of the 15-seaters for schools, but there is no such ban for colleges.
Models involved in the warning include, but are not restricted to; Ford Econoline E350, Ford Club Wagon E350, Dodge Ram Wagon B350, Chevrolet Express 3500 and GMC Savana G3500.
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