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Ask a Trooper: The dangers of a 15-passenger van

Question: I've heard some information about the dangers of a 15-passenger van. I was surprised at some of the information and believe it is very valuable, so can you please write about it? Some of these vehicles are still being driven.

Answer: Yes, even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued warnings on this issue in previous years. Many crashes around the country are one-vehicle rollovers, and they involve multiple-deaths.  Many of those occur in 15-passenger vans. 

Most 15-passenger vans are already "on the way out," but like you said, they are still being driven.  Colleges, schools, churches, various non-professional sports teams as well as private businesses all use these vans.  The dangers tied with these vans include driver error and vehicle issues. Drivers tend to overdrive the vehicle capacity by speeding and making sudden turns when the vehicle is overloaded or incorrectly loaded. 

A loophole in the law results in the fact that most of those vans do not have safety glass in them because they were actually a cargo van ordered with seats.  Cargo vans did not need the safety glass, nor do they currently have all the vehicle occupant safety features and crush proof zones that they should to keep humans safe while riding in them.

In many of these types of vehicles, the roof will crush down to the seats during a rollover. That is why we see headlines declaring crashes that killed several persons in one crash.  Crashes for this type of vehicle can be caused by one factor or a combination of factors such as speed, sudden turns, tire failures or blow-outs and overloading with passengers and cargo.

Remember that these vehicles have a high center of gravity, and drivers need to compensate for that with good driving techniques and safe loading procedures.

If you have or are responsible for a 15-passenger van, follow these simple rules to keep the vehicle occupants safe: 

Keep the tires in good shape. 

Always drive under 60 miles per hour, even if in a faster speed zone. 

Don't overload the van by putting too many people in it and don't load it unsafely with cargo, especially by putting too much weight to the back or too high. 

Don't swerve the van or make sudden turns, especially at speeds exceeding 30 miles per hour. 

If you currently have a 15-passenger van and are using it for long distances to move a lot of people and cargo, you need to seriously consider replacing the van with a much safer vehicle, like a small bus.

Always wear your seat belt too.

If you have any questions concerning traffic-related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow, Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 W., Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205 or email