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The Observer Paper 12/22/14

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The statistics on large passenger vans aren't getting any better. About six months ago several families — many of them local — suffered through the loss of five forest firefighters who were killed when a 15-passenger van left the roadway and flipped on the way to a fire in Colorado. The fatal accident wasn't the first involving large passenger vans, and sadly, it wasn't the last.

Earlier this week a 15-passenger van rolled on Highway 97 south of Biggs. One of the passengers was killed. The case against such vans has been and continues to be too significant to ignore. If the government continues to refuse to force a redesign or implement more stringent safety precautions, the time has come for groups to stop buying them and people to stop riding in them.

The Colorado and Biggs incidents are only two of the most recent. Don't forget that:

• On May 8, 2001, a van carrying 12 women on a church-sponsored shopping tripped overturned near Wichita Falls, Texas. Four died, eight were injured.

• On June 10, 2001, a van carrying members of the Marine Forces Reserve rolled near Needles. Calif. Two dead, nine injured.

• On July 1, 2001, a van carrying members of a church youth group rolled near Greensboro, N.C. One dead, 11 injured.

• On Feb. 10, 2000, a van carrying the Prairie View A&M track team rolled. Four dead.

Between 1990 and 2000, extended vans were involved in 268 single-vehicle roll-overs that resulted in 424 deaths. An estimated 1.4 million of the vans are on the road. They are being used by churches, large families, youth groups and firefighters. Wisely, Grayback Forestry curtailed use of the vans after the Colorado tragedy.

Studies have shown the extended vans are prone to rollovers — especially when loaded and a sudden steering maneuver is undertaken. The vans are accidents waiting to happen. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies have shown that the propensity for accidents increases with the number of passengers, and that the vehicles require special handling.

Ford, Daimler-Crysler and General Motors stand by the safety of their extended vans — if they are driven properly. GM's vans have a longer wheelbase, but the others have a seat that rides behind the rear axle. Studies have shown that loading the van causes the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward. Ford, which has far more of the long vans on the road than the other manufacturers, has acknowledged that the vans "should be driven in a different style than other vehicles.'' Drivers are told by Ford to avoid sharp turns, excessive speed and abrupt maneuvers.

Evidence about the vans' safety is overwhelming, yet no special rules are in effect for training people who drive them. These vans fall one passenger short of the requirements that apply to any vehicle that hauls 16 or more people.

The time has come to implement specific safety rules for existing vans and require design changes in new ones.


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