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Rollover accidents spark debate over safety of passenger vans

When we shop for a personal vehicle, many of us look into safety ratings and performance reviews. If a manufacturer has a history of defects or recalled vehicles, some of us may choose to avoid buying from the company and look for a more reliable car, truck or van. 

But we generally do not think twice about these issues when we get into other vehicles; especially when these vehicles are operated with the sole purpose of transporting groups of passengers. Unfortunately, these may be some of the most unsafe vehicles on Minnesota roads. 

Did you know that more than 260 people have been killed in 15-passenger van rollovers since 2003? This surprisingly high number has prompted various groups to address whether or not these vehicles are safe and if they should be classified as a commercial vehicle.

The vans that are being called into question are supposed to carry no more than 15 people. However, with that number of people inside, the van can be quite unstable as the distribution of weight is effected considerably. Operators are supposed to remove the entire back seat just to keep the vehicle stable. And while they can carry 15 people, the vans reportedly are safer if there are no more than 9 people inside. 

But many groups are not aware of the rollover risks associated with these vehicles. They think that if they operate them safely, there is no cause for concern. However, the design of the vehicles is such that even small events on the road can result in a frightening rollover accident. Rather than expect drivers to make significant adjustments to the vehicle or only fill them to just over half the capacity, it may be time for the manufacturers of these vans to readdress the design. It may also be a good idea for authorities to consider classifying the vehicles in such a way that drivers will be required to have additional licensing to operate them safely.

Source: NBC-2, "Are large passenger vans safe?" Dave Elias, Sept. 16, 2013

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