NHTSA: Loaded Vans Rollover Prone

April 9, 2001 -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned today that 15-passenger vans used to carry college sports teams and airport-bound passengers are more prone to rollover accidents when they are fully loaded.

According to NHTSA's report, the likelihood that a van will roll over increases with the number of passengers. The study, based on crash data gathered between 1994 and 1997, found that vans carrying 10 or more passengers were almost three times more prone to rollovers than vehicles occupied by fewer people.

The agency found that vehicles carrying between one and nine passengers had a rollover ratio of 12.7 percent; vans carrying 10 or more people has a 35.4 rollover ratio. (Vans carrying 16 or more people had a 70 percent rollover ratio.)

NHTSA investigators explained that when a van is fully loaded, its center of gravity shifts upward and toward the back, increasing the risk of rollover accidents. However, they also stressed there is nothing wrong with the 15-passenger vans and that drivers should understand their vehicles' limits.

"You have a vehicle that behaves entirely differently than whenthey are lightly loaded," NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson told The Associated Press. "There is nothing inherently wrong with these vehicles as long as youunderstand those characteristics and take that in to account."

Sparked by Series of Accidents

The report was prompted by a series of rollover accidents involving college teams last year. Four members of the Prairie View A&M University track team were killed and seven others were injured when their vanrolled last year. Other rollover accidents involved the Wisconsin-Oshkosh swim team, the DePaul women's track team and the Kenyon College swim team.

The study used crash data from Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah because of the availability of Vehicle Identification Numbers, which are used to determine the make and models of the vans in rollover accidents. The report said there are approximately 1.4 million 15-passenger vans registered in the United States.