Many people have driven or ridden in a passenger van at one point in their lives. In fact, there are over 500,000 15-passenger vans on the road today that are often used to transport people to and from church groups, elder care centers, college campuses, and community organizations. But what many do not realize is that these seemingly innocuous automobiles are some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road. That risk is further compounded when the vehicle is operated by a driver that is inexperienced. If you or a loved one have been injured in a crash involving a passenger van, it is important for you to know your legal rights.
The Changing Purpose of 15-Passenger Vans
Passenger vans were designed in the 1970s for use as cargo vehicles, but as time passed many manufacturers began to market them for passenger transport without changing the vehicles’ design to make them fit for such purposes. For decades the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a steady stream of warnings to users of passenger vans in an attempt to advise the public as to the risks inherent in their use as passenger vehicles. NHTSA statistics show that since 1990, there have been more than 1,200 fatal crashes involving 15-passenger vans. Similarly, a study by the Quality Control Systems Corporation, a company focused on statistical research and application, found that more than 6,000 people have been involved in fatal rollover accidents while riding in one of these vehicles. Of those more than 6,000 individuals involved in a rollover crash, only 305 are known to have walked away uninjured.
The Safety Problems Presented by 15-Person Vans
Government warnings note that these vehicles are bulky, have large blind spots, and are difficult to maneuver — especially in emergency situations. The design of the vehicle is such that the driver is more prone to oversteer than in the average passenger car. Oversteering in a 15-passenger van often leads to loss of control.
In addition, the risk of rollover accidents in these vans increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases. Federal officials have warned that when a passenger van carries ten or more occupants, the rollover rate increases to approximately three times that of a lightly loaded passenger van. The reason for this is the increase in passengers causes the center of gravity for the vehicle to shift rearward. Thus when the vehicle becomes unbalanced, the forces acting are more likely to causing the vehicle to roll. Any weight placed on the roof of the van similarly raises the risk of such accidents. According to Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, Inc., “this is a vehicle that by all measures – including the NHTSA’s – has been found as unsafe for its intended purpose and still remains on the road.”
Pressures from lawmakers, private organizations, and an increasing number of lawsuits filed across the country have forced manufacturers to attempt to implement additional safety measures to reduce the risks of these design flaws. However, these safety measures are only available in newer vans. According to the NHTSA, as of 2007, only about 7 percent of registered 15-passenger vans were newer models that included these safety measures. To make matters worse, 15-passenger vans are highly unregulated. Since they are capable of carrying more than 10 passengers, they technically fall into the category of “buses” for purposes of government regulations. However, because these vehicles are much smaller than traditional buses, they are not required to meet the standards that are normally imposed on school bus-sized vehicles. Because these vans fall into a regulatory gray area, they are not forced to comply with a number of government safety standards, including those related to interior impact mandates, head restraints, side impact testing, and roof crush resistance. This lack of regulation allows for the production of vehicles that are highly dangerous to the average user, even when operated with care and according to instructions.
15-Passenger Van Personal Injury Lawsuits
For years, victims of these design defects have brought suit against the vehicles’ manufacturers, claiming that the vehicles are unstable, not road worthy, and generally more dangerous than the average consumer would expect. Manufacturers have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of these faulty vehicles. Yet despite these obvious flaws, these vans are still marketed as cheaper alternatives to school buses. Unfortunately, cash strapped school districts and youth sports organizations may come to see these vehicles as attractive options for transporting youth groups, community organizations and the like despite the known dangers. Even though 29 states prohibit the use of 15-passenger vans to transport students to and from school activities, Arkansas still allows their use in such situations.
Injuries from passenger van accidents, especially those involving rollovers, can include traumatic brain, neck, back, and spinal injuries or death. Not only are these occurrences physically and psychologically devastating, but they also cost a large sum of money to remedy. Surviving victims are often forced to take a great deal of time away from work and spend years in rehabilitation to get back to where they were before the accident.
Why Hire an Attorney?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a passenger van accident, it is vital that you seek the assistance of an attorney with experience in passenger van accident law. An experienced lawyer will have extensive background in compiling the necessary documentation to move your case forward and will know what information to look for when analyzing your case to give you the greatest chance of recovery. Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak can stand up to the other driver’s insurance company and fight for you. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call our firm at (479) 316-0438 today or contact us online.
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