NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


July 15, 2003

Washington, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of two crashes involving 15-passenger vans was tire failure, the drivers' response to that failure and the drivers' inability to maintain control of their vans in an emergency. The Safety Board concluded that the safe operation of 15-passenger vans requires a knowledge and skill level different and above that for passenger cars, particularly when the vans are fully loaded or drivers experience an emergency situation.

"The NTSB's recommendations are based on fact, science and data and our analysis in these accidents demonstrate that we must do more to protect children and adults who travel in 15-passenger vans," said Ellen G. Engleman, NTSB Chairman. "Our recommendations are attainable, doable and will make an immediate impact for safety."

As a result of these accidents, the Safety Board recommended that the 50 states and the District of Columbia establish a driver's license endorsement for 15-passenger vans requiring drivers to complete a training program on the operation of these vehicles and pass a written and skills test. The Board also recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in developing long-term performance requirements for tire pressure monitoring systems, adopt more stringent detection standards than 25 or 30 percent below manufacture-recommended levels, since the pressure at those levels can have an adverse effect on handling of vehicles, such as 15-passenger vans.

On May 8, 2001, a 1993 15-passenger Dodge van with a driver and 11 passengers, all members of the First Assembly of God Church, was traveling on U.S. Route 82 near Henrietta, Texas, at approximately 67 miles per hour. The left rear tire blew out, causing the van to leave the roadway and roll over several times. The driver and three passengers died.

On July 15, 2001, a 1989 Dodge Ram 15-passenger van with a driver and 13 passengers, owned by Virginia Heights Baptist Church of Roanoke, Virginia, was traveling at approximately 65 mph on U.S. Route 220, near Randleman, North Carolina. The van experienced a tread separation and blow out. The driver attempted to correct the rotation of the vehicle, but was unable to regain control and the van was rolled over. One person died in the accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration classifies 12- and 15-passenger vans as buses. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration considers the commercial vehicles only if they are used for compensation. Therefore a driver who is not operating the vehicle for compensation can operate a 12- or 15-passenger van without additional training despite NHTSA's statement in its consumer advisory that these have a different operating characteristic from passenger cars.

Contributing to the accidents was the deterioration of tires, which was caused by the churches' lack of tire maintenance. The drivers failed to check the condition of their tires for cracking and dry rot. The tires on these vans had become rotten from UV damage, age, limited use, and being operated in under-inflated conditions.

Contributing to the severity of the accidents was the lack of appropriate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards applicable to 15-passenger vans in the area of restraints and occupant protection.

In the Henrietta, Texas accident, only two persons were wearing lap/shoulder belts. Seven passengers were ejected. In the Randleman, North Carolina accident, the driver was wearing a lap shoulder belt and the front-seat passenger was wearing the lap portion of a lap/shoulder belt. Four passengers were ejected.

In Texas, the law requires that passengers in the front seat of a vehicle wear seat belts. Passenger vehicles include cars, light trucks, sports utility vehicles, trucks, and truck tractors. It does not include 15-passenger vans.

North Carolina law requires that all drivers and front- seat passengers ages 16 and older must have a seat belt properly fastened to their bodies at all times when the vehicle is on a street or highway. Children under 16 must use age- appropriate child restraints or wear seat belts in all seating positions of any vehicle (including 15-passenger vans) required by law to be equipped with seat belts.

Simulations, conducted by the Safety Board, of the Henrietta accident show that the passengers would not have been ejected nor would they have received such serious injuries if they had been wearing lap/shoulder belts. Accordingly, the Board recommended that adjustable lap/shoulder belts be installed in all seating positions in 15- passenger vans.

Although the most frequent harmful contact points for non-ejected occupants are the roof, pillars, rails, and headers, 15-passenger vans are not required to meet the same occupant protection and roof crush standards that passenger vehicle have to meet, despite the fact that they are used in a manner similar to passenger cars.

Therefore, the Board recommended the voluntary development and installation of technologies to provide upper interior component protection within 15-passenger vans by model year 2006 and that the compromised interior space be minimized.

Additional recommendations include:

To the National Highway Safety Administration:

In cooperation with the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, revise your definitions of buses and commercial motor vehicles to apply consistently to 12 and 15 passenger vans, taking into account the unique operating characteristics and multiple functions of these vans.

To Texas and Virginia:

Require that all passenger vehicle inspections include (1) tire pressure measurements and correction of inflation deficiencies detected and (2) identification and failure of those tires that exhibit extensive weather checking deterioration or that are not properly load-rated.

In 1999, the Board issued seven recommendations in its Special Investigation Report, Pupil Transportation in Vehicles Not Meeting Federal Schoolbus Standards. The Board recommended that States, Head Start, and day care centers prohibit the transportation of school children in 15-passenger vans and use appropriate restraints in vehicles so equipped.

In 2002, the Safety Board issued four recommendations in its Safety Report, Evaluation of Rollover Propensity of 15- Passenger Vans. The Board asked NHTSA to rate and publish the rollover risk of 15-passenger vans as part of NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program and to work with van manufactures to develop electronic stability control systems that would help prevent rollovers.

Both studies are available on our web site.

A summary of this report is available now on the NTSB Web site at http://www.ntsb.gov, under "Publications"; the complete report will also be posted at that location in a few weeks. Soon afterwards, printed copies will be available for purchase through the National Technical Information Service.

NTSB Media Contact:
Terry N. Williams



The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.