During the holiday season and on through the winter months, drivers on our Indiana and Illinois roadways may have to share their lanes with more and more passenger vans. These motor vehicles are great for groups taking road trips for a variety of reasons. They are bigger than SUVs, they can accommodate up to 15 passengers, and they allow everyone to share the journey together rather than traveling in separate cars or trucks. It’s fun and it saves fuel costs.
Understandably, church groups like these passenger vans. So do organizations like the Boy Scouts. If your family is planning a trip to visit relatives over the holidays, or maybe going on a vacation over Spring Break, then you can rent a passenger van that seats either 12 or 15 passengers at several rental car agencies.
Warning: these vans can be dangerous and deadly. For more, see:
- The Dangers of 15-Passenger Vans: Churches, Schools, and Other Groups Use Passenger Vans That Have Real Safety Issues – New Federal Warning
- The Lesson of Recent Tragic Passenger Van Crash in Indiana: Bald Tires and Rollovers
Passenger Vans Drive Differently Than Other Motor Vehicles
These vans are bigger than your standard minivan that seats around 7 people comfortably. These are full-size vans designed for 10 to 15 occupants. They are much longer than other motor vehicles, like cars or SUVs. And, they are wider, too.
Driving a passenger van is a different experience than driving other kinds of motor vehicles.
The passenger vans need more space on the roads than cars. Drivers must rely on their side mirrors much more than they might if they are driving a pickup truck or SUV. And the passenger van will be unique in the way it steers: fast movements of the steering wheel mean sharp responses in a passenger van that the driver will not experience in another kind of car or van.
Braking in a Passenger Van
Maybe the biggest difference in driving a passenger van as opposed to another kind of motor vehicle is how the brakes work. In a passenger van, the driver will need more braking time. That extended braking time grows with the weight of the van: if there are 15 occupants in the vehicle, it is going to take a longer time to slow down and come to a stop.
Obviously, the faster the van is moving at the time the driver hits the brakes, the more time that will be required to stop. A passenger van filled with a scout troop on the highway is going to need a lot more time to slow to a stop than the driver’s family car back home in his driveway.
Safe Driving for a Passenger Van
Anyone driving a passenger van needs to adjust his driving habits to accommodate the special characteristics of this type of motor vehicle. Many organizations, like the Boy Scouts, have specific driving requirements for van drivers, such as:
- Age (25 is the preference for the Boy Scouts)
- Training on operation and safety for passenger vans
- Road Test to demonstrate competency in driving a passenger van
This is because it’s difficult to drive a passenger van without training and experience.
Drivers operating a passenger van need to know that it’s vital that they keep their distance from other vehicles on the road. Have nothing on either side of the van as well as nothing ahead or behind the van as they drive the roadway is best, of course. But if they must share lanes with other vehicles, then they need to stay in the right lane where they can access the shoulder if necessary.
Passenger van drivers should know to keep at least six seconds behind the car in front of them in traffic, particularly if they are in less than optimal conditions. Drivers can judge this distance by watching the car ahead and when it passes a road mark (sign, pole, etc.), counting “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, etc.” until they reach six seconds.
Van drivers must drive defensively, as well. They need to keep clear of blind spots in any surrounding vehicles. Can the big rig driver ahead of the passenger van clearly see the van? The van driver needs to be sure that the van is easily seen by the trucker.
Likewise, the passenger van driver needs to be aware of his or her own blind spots. Because the van driver is so dependent upon his mirrors, it’s vital that the driver understand that there will be areas surrounding the van that he needs to double-check. The van driver cannot readily see everything around him without making an effort.
Driving a large passenger van means the driver must always be driving to defend against the dangers that face him because of the characteristics of the vehicle itself. These efforts include:
- Scanning all the mirrors every few seconds for any changes in the traffic or roadway
- Scanning the roadway ahead for intersections, road hazards, traffic lights, stop signs, etc.
- Adjusting the mirrors before starting to drive, and pulling over to re-adjust as necessary, in order to see the side traffic and rear of the van
- Leaning forward to change the angle of vision before entering a lane or making any lane change
- Never entering an intersection until he has checked all directions, and is prepared to brake if needed
- Stopping so that the driver can see the rear tires and the pavement of the vehicle stopped ahead of him in the roadway or street
- Using turn signals much earlier than he would in another type of vehicle to let other vehicles know well in advance that the van will be turning
- Driving at less than the speed limit on all turns
- Driving at less than the speed limit in any kind of bad weather or road hazard
- Never backing up until making sure there is nothing behind him. There will be a blind spot directly behind the van that cannot be monitored by mirrors. Unless the passenger van comes equipped with a rear camera, the driver must be vigilant of this blind spot and confirm the area is clear of hazards before backing up the van at any speed.
Driver Mistakes Can Cause Serious and Fatal Crashes
Drivers who are not sufficiently trained in driving passenger vans run the risk of making mistakes on the road that can cause the passenger van to crash. Inexperienced drivers may panic, sending the passenger van off the roadway and into a rollover.
Rollovers of these large passenger vans are a serious danger to anyone riding in a passenger van here in Indiana or Illinois. Anyone driving a 12 or 15 passenger van must be prepared for the special care and attention needed to operate one of these vehicles.
Weather conditions, distractions inside the van (happy passengers can be loud!), frustrated drivers who are upset that the van is driving slowly, ice and snow on the mirrors or windows, and other variables can lead to van drivers becoming stressed, anxious, fatigued, or distracted. Rollovers are a high risk in these situations – and even if the passenger van avoids hitting another vehicle in the accident, there can be multiple accident victims and severe or fatal injuries.
In our next post, we’ll discuss passenger van accidents and their aftermath as well as government oversight of these issues, including how these vans are manufactured and how drivers are trained.
Claims after a passenger van accident can involve organizations, manufacturers, rental agencies, other drivers, and more in determining fault and liability. Let’s be careful out there!