High-capacity passenger vans can be an efficient way to transport small groups. Businesses use them to deliver workers to job sites, and churches, schools, camps and other organizations transport their clients and volunteers. But high-capacity vans – sometimes referred to as 15-passenger vans – require extra attention to assure driver, passenger and public safety.
Because of the weight distribution of passengers and a high center of gravity, these vehicles are more difficult to control. They require longer stopping distances and are more susceptible to rollover accidents than the average vehicle.
Operators of high-capacity vans can reduce the likelihood of a serious accident by instituting safety procedures and providing additional training for drivers. The National Safety Council provides a list of state-certified defensive driving programs.
Driver Qualifications and Training
Organizations should only permit qualified drivers to operate the van. Place a tag on the van key ring and signage within the vehicle indicating that only qualified van drivers are authorized to drive the vehicle. To be considered qualified, a driver should have a significant amount of driving experience, at least five years.
The organization can also verify driver experience by obtaining motor vehicle records (MVRs) on each driver. Consult with an attorney to ensure compliance with any laws and regulations governing access and use of MVRs. Carefully examine MVRs, and do not permit persons with poor driving records to drive vehicles owned, leased or rented by the organization or to drive personal vehicles while doing business for the organization.
Drivers should receive defensive driver training specific to driving passenger vans, including awareness of the high center of gravity and other handling issues unique to high-capacity passenger vans.
Navigator/Designated Driver Assistant
To reduce driver distractions, the front seat passenger should be designated to assist the driver by reading maps, caring for passenger needs (radio, cell phone) or other tasks.
Put procedures in place to control driver fatigue. For example, limit trips to 250 miles one way. Use commercial chartered buses for longer trips, or provide multiple van-certified drivers.
Do not load luggage or other items on rooftops, exaggerating the already high center of gravity. In-vehicle storage should not be allowed above seat level, and do not tow cargo trailers.
Seat Belt Usage
Strictly enforce use of seatbelts by the driver and all passengers.
Note: If a high-capacity van is in use, but is not ever used for more than 10 passengers plus the driver, remove the rear seat from the vehicle. This assures that the weight of passengers stays in front of the rear wheels. For the same reason, do not use the extra space created by removing that seat to stow extra luggage or gear. Instead, place luggage under the passenger seat.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides additional safety tips at safercar.gov or by visiting NHTSA’s home page and typing “15 Passenger Vans” into the search field. The agency also offers a PDF version of its safety information.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.