The driver of a 1997 15-passenger Ford Econoline church van swerved after a rear tire blew. When the driver overcorrected, the van rolled several times before landing upside down in the median. Six, of the fourteen passengers in the vehicle, were killed; nine unbelted passengers were ejected through the windows.
This scenario is not new when discussing safety and the Econoline or similar vans. According to safety advocates, this type of van has a known propensity to roll, causing fatalities especially when it is heavily loaded. Due to weight, these vans tend to roll if the tires are not properly inflated. Industry experts say the back tires are placed under extreme stress because larger loads shift the center of gravity to the rear. This causes a "pounding” of the rear tires, which will exacerbate their failure.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire failures are the most common cause of rollover accidents in these larger vans. Recognizing the risks, in 2005 the federal government banned using them to transport students of high school age or younger for school activities. Several years ago, the NHTSA began a campaign to educate people about the rollover possibility. How does that make these vans safer? The rollover rate for 15-passenger vans is three times more likely than with small, five-passenger vans. If these vans are known to be unstable and roll, shouldn’t it be mandated that the auto manufacturer be required to build a safer van before it is put on the selling floor? Shouldn’t these vans be recalled and retrofitted for improved stability?
Some are calling these vans a death trap. Ford blames the crash on poor tire maintenance. While the crash is still under investigation, police have found no evidence of debris that could have punctured the tire; the tread on the tires has been described as “older.”
No matter what the outcome of the investigation, safety clearly could have saved lives. The NHTSA has issued warnings about the stability of the van. These vehicles have a higher center of gravity and handle differently than other vehicles. They have recommended that these vans be operated by experienced drivers who are familiar with the handling characteristics. A 15-passenger van is not a car and therefore, should not be handled like one. Then should there be a warning label on the vehicle sticker? A significant factor know to safe lives is seat belts. It is also imperative, as in any vehicle, that the driver and all passengers wear seatbelts; the single most effective safety item in any vehicle. In a rollover, a seat belt can significantly reduce the risk of ejection, serious injury or death. It is also important to have regular maintenance checks on any vehicle. Read the owner manual for the manufacturers’ recommendations.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.