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Another multiple fatality resulting from unsafe 15-person vans

Back in 2002, Joan Claybrook, former adminstrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, wrote a stinging rebuke of American auto manufacturers for the continued sale of 15-person vans.  As designed, she claimed, the vans are inherently top-heavy, vulnerable to roll-overs, and unsafe.  Despite this criticism, the vans continue to be manufacturered without significant design improvements and manufacturers continue to evade blame by criticizing maintenance, driver inexperience and outside influences.

Between 1997 and 2006, 1090 people were killed in 15-person van crashes.  688 of those fatalities occurred in roll-overs.   Henry Jasny, general counsel to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, explained in a recent AP release that "any obstruction that causes a wheel to rise off the road [surface] puts the van at risk" for rollover, including a simple flat tire.  Sadly, these obstructions are predictable and foreseeable, as is operation by non-expert drivers who don't have CDLs.  Inadequate tire pressure and maintenance issues will also arise on a predictable basis--particularly when these vehicles are owned and utilized by churches and other non-profit entities.

Last week a church van blew a tire and rolled on the New York State Thruway, killing six more people.  Despite the head of NHTSA calling the manufacture of these vans "a criminal act," the manufacturers continue to sell them without modification.  Experts recommend that they be re-designed with dual rear tires as that would afford reasonable stability on the road.

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