In many Seventh-day Adventist Churches and schools, unfortunately, 15-passenger vans are still used. The use of these vans has been greatly discouraged for over 10 years. In some places they have been prohibited by the Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership across the North American Division (NAD). While NAD leadership has taken steps to remove them from use throughout the region, many local churches continue to use, buy, or rent these dangerous vehicles.
The truth is that the risks that come with using a 15-passenger van can’t be avoided. Some believe these myths to be true:
MYTH: If I take out a row of seats from the 15-passenger van, it is then an approved form of transportation.
FACT: Removing a row of seats does not make it an approved form of transportation. The vehicle is still the same type of van with the same inherent flaws.
MYTH: If I use a van that is privately owned, my church won’t be held liable.
FACT: Using a privately owned 15-passenger van or even renting a 15-passenger van for a church activity does not protect the church from allegations of liability.
Why are the 15-Passenger Vans Dangerous?Did you know that 15-passenger vans were initially designed for transporting cargo rather than passengers?* The design of these vehicles was intended to have more of the weight towards the front of the van.*
The 15-passenger vans are dangerous due to a propensity to rollover when loaded, and a lack of structural integrity. In Adventist Risk Management’s experience dealing with the use of these vans, a few noted shortcomings include:
- A high center of gravity that is increased with passenger seating
- Instability in crosswinds
- Seating configurations that place excessive weight on one side
- Under-inflated tires, resulting in tire failure or blowouts that cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
Here are the FactsMany rationalize the use of 15-passenger vans because they are comparatively inexpensive to other options. Some argue that the risk factors have been corrected, or that the risk was overstated. Underlying all these arguments is an “it won’t happen to me” attitude. But as early as 2001, the 15-passenger van was identified as significantly dangerous for transporting passengers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that between 2004 and 2013:
- 653 Americans died in crashes while riding in 15-passenger vans—an average of 65 occupants per year, according to NHTSA data.
- Nearly 60 percent of fatalities in these crashes were in vehicles that rolled over.
- About 50 percent of the fatalities occurred in heavily loaded (10+ occupants) vans that rolled over.
- About 59 percent of the fatally injured van occupants in rollovers were not restrained.
Additionally, when local churches purchase or rent these dangerous vans despite NAD Church policy, it becomes harder to defend the church as whole when we do not follow our guidelines and safety measures.
A Call to ActionWhat should be done with the vans already owned? They must be sold and replaced with structurally safer and more stable alternatives such as “turtle top vans,” and buses. Members, visitors, and volunteers deserve the best efforts of care. We must not compromise the safety of others.
When asked about the NAD church’s use of 15-passenger vans, Elder Dan Jackson, president of the NAD, said:
“We must remove these dangerous vans from our use. Not only is the financial burden too great to ignore, but also we cannot afford to distract one soul from being reached for the kingdom. We cannot lose another life. Friends, it is time to fully remove 15-passenger vans from use by Seventh-day Adventist organizations.”
The short-term financial savings can be tempting when looking to purchase one of these dangerous vans, but more importantly than any cost saving is the loss of life and the loss of the reputation of the Adventist Church to do ministry. We must not be the church that is known to compromise the safety of its members and visitors. We can and must do so much better.
Take action today: remove any 15-passenger vans from your fleet and discontinue use of 15-passenger vans immediately.