Coming and Going in a 15-Passenger Van
15-Passenger vans have many applications: athletic teams to and from sporting events; school children on field trips; employees to job sites; volunteers to their next activity; you and all your friends on an annual golf, shopping, or pickleball getaway. Using them can reduce transportation costs. Not knowing how to drive, or properly maintain them, can be deadly.
Regardless of the payload or destination for the passengers, these vehicles have been referred to as notoriously cumbersome, top-heavy, and in some cases, downright unwieldy (especially the older models). Many feel they pose a unique set of risks to occupants.
“My impression of them has always been that they’re tall and therefore subject to more body roll. They’re spacious and can be heavy and difficult to stop, and depending on load and how they are loaded, subject to potential load shifting issues”, says Robert Weitzel, Director of Development with the Saskatchewan Safety Council.
“The fact is, these things aren’t sports cars or minivans. They don’t handle like the vehicles everyone drives everyday and therefore require a different set of skills to operate and maintain,” Weitzel said. The drivers behind the wheel of these vans are often responsible for the well-being of a dozen or more people, so a tire failure at speed or an overcorrection to maneuver around an obstacle or hazard can result in catastrophe. That said, “the most critical factor in ensuring the safety of occupants is the operator and vehicle maintenance,” he continued.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration refers to 15-passenger vans as convenient but at the same time recommend that drivers take specific safety precautions. The Saskatchewan Safety Council goes a step further by offering hands-on Defensive Driving programs and driver evaluations specific to the operation of these units.
The Good Spirit School Division (Yorkton area), recognizing the value of such a program for its staff and faculty, recently registered about 60 participants in the Council’s half-day in-class Defensive Driving for 15-Passenger Vans session and followed that up with individual operator evaluations for each of the van drivers in their division.
G.S.S.D. Shop Teacher in Melville, Michael Will, commented he “was not sure how they were going to fill three hours of a course on driving.” He answered his own question with “good driving tips combined with the physics of driving a 15-passenger van. It was a very good review of driving, the rules of the road and using your eyes to spot hazards.”
As for the evaluations, Darlene Rutten, Accounting Teacher said, “I was a bit nervous about the in-vehicle evaluation… it was not intimidating at all, the course was very good!
A Vice Principal from Esterhazy, Tracy Huckell, felt “The classroom course was relevant and engaging, the in-vehicle assessment offered great feedback on the rules of the road and real world driving situations,” all of which are areas every driver of every vehicle can stand to occasionally brush up on.
Weitzel acknowledges that this style of van has gotten better thanks to improvements in suspension, lighter and safer build materials, but most noticeable would be the tech upgrades. “The new ones often have traction control with body roll sensing and the obvious ABS system. All this means that they are less likely to rollover. It does not change that special care needs to be taken in their maintenance and operation,” he says and closes with this comment: “The best thing drivers can do is avoid situations when such technology need come into play. Get some training, drive safely and properly maintain your vans.”
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