Thursday, September 19, 2013

EyeOnNews Florida: Is it time for Florida to heed Fed warnings on cargo to passenger van conversions?

By Al Sunshine, Chief Consumer Investigator, for, Sept 18, 2013 - 

It was supposed to be a quick trip to Tampa on Saturday for a religious meeting for the members of the Ft. Lauderdale’s Seventh Day Adventist Church.  But a tire blow-out on the old Church Van triggered a horrible accident that’s claimed 3 lives and injured almost a dozen others, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Tragic accidents happen.

But this one is different because similar Cargo Van accidents have been happening for years, tracked nationally decades ago and warnings issued to prevent them from ever happening again. But here in Florida, those warnings have been mostly ignored.

What’s the problem and Why is Florida home to so many tragedies like this one?

The Van was originally built as Cargo Van which was reportedly retrofitted to carry 15 passengers. It was not built to carry people and did not have to meet Federal Passenger Vehicle Safety Standards. In fact, it’s illegal under Federal Law to sell a Cargo Vehicle to Transport people, but nobody enforces the rules. And Florida doesn’t even have a mandatory safety inspection program anymore to check the condition of the vehicles on it’s roads.

So it happens everyday.

Accidents involving these old Cargo Vans have been killing passengers for years. Back in 2004, “Public Citizen” posted an urgent warning advising against using them to carry passengers without modifying them to make them less prone to fatal roll-over accidents.  It warned:

“15-passenger vans are used by churches, daycare and eldercare centers, schools, universities, and airport shuttle services — yet they are extremely hazardous vehicles.  Originally manufactured as cargo vans, automakers never redesigned these vehicles to safely transport people.  When five or more passengers are riding in these vans, the likelihood of rollover increases dramatically.  Because the rear of these vans extend 4 to 5 1/2 feet beyond the rear wheels, any loading of five or more people or luggage/equipment causes instability during emergency maneuvers such as sudden turns to avoid a pedestrian or vehicle.  This causes the vans to fishtail, and because they are top heavy and overloaded in the rear, they are prone to roll over and result in devastating crashes.”

And just this past April, Uncle Sam posted it’s latest warning through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

“ As the summer driving season gets under way, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is again reminding all 15-passenger van users to take appropriate precautions to guard against the possibility of a tragic rollover crash.
Recognizing that 15-passenger vans are particularly sensitive to loading, the agency warns users never to overload these vehicles under any circumstances. NHTSA research shows overloading 15-passenger vans both increases rollover risk and makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.
NHTSA research shows there is a greater risk of rollover because many drivers lack experience driving the larger vehicles. Because 15-passenger vans handle quite differently than smaller passenger vehicles due to their increased length and width, NHTSA recommends only experienced drivers familiar with their handling should operate them.”

It goes on to warn:

If you are planning to take a trip in a 15-passenger van this spring, here is a helpful list of safety tips to ensure the trip is a safe one:
  • §  Never overload the vehicle. Agency research shows overloading not only increases rollover risk but makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.
  • §  Make sure the vehicle is regularly maintained, and that drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van.
  • §  Have suspension and steering components inspected according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and replace or repair these parts as necessary.
  • §  Ensure that vehicles are equipped with properly sized and load-rated tires.
  • §  Check the tires for proper inflation and signs of wear or damage. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner’s manual and on the door pillar.

Finally, it is critical for passengers to wear seat belts on every trip. A disproportionate number – 88 percent – of people killed in rollover crashes in 15-passenger vans were not wearing their seat belts.

To learn more about 15-passenger van safety, visit Van Safety.
15 Passenger Cargo Vans can be seen all over our roads carrying children back and forth to school, church and social groups going to special events, workers being transported back and forth to Job Sites.

But in a State like Florida, with no formal vehicle inspection program, we have no way of knowing if the vans tires are good, the bakes work, or if there are even enough seat belts for everyone being carried inside. Or even when the last time was the operator checked the tires to see if they were safe.

Lou Lombardo runs CareforCrashVictims.Com.

He recently read about this latest tragic Florida accident and asks,
” When will we ever learn?  

Press releases are not enough. NHTSA has many powers of investigation, recall, rule  making, research, publicity, and public education. We really can and must do better protecting the American people.”