Does Overnight 15-Passenger Van Crash Illustrate the Vehicle’s Inherent Risks?

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According to the Florida Highway Patrol, who arrived on the scene shortly after receiving a 911 report of a serious accident, 8 have been killed after a single-vehicle accident involving a 15-passenger church van. Those killed include the driver and seven others from a Fort Pierce church. 10 more suffered moderate to severe injuries and were taken to area hospitals for medical treatment. FHP states that the accident occurred on Florida State Road 78 and US 27. This stretch of the highway is located in More Haven in Glades County Florida.

FHP states that the crash occurred at approximately 12:31 am. While no one was present to witness the crash on the rural stretch of the highway, police and investigators have pieced together what they believe caused the crash.  Police believe that the driver of the van did not see a stop sign while traveling east on route 78. After missing the stop sign, the van driver then lost control of the van. Police believe this van accident was caused when the vehicle “careened” across all traffic lanes of intersecting Route 27. The van then plunged into a steep partially water-filled ditch that some reports have described as a canal. It is not known whether the driver was attempting to avoid another vehicle or a roadway hazard, if he or she fell asleep, or if some other event caused the driver to become distracted or otherwise lose control of the van. Church members were returning from Palm Sunday services held after a weekend convention in Fort Myers.

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What Injuries Occurred?

8 were killed in the tragic accident. Each cause of death has yet to be released, but based on the circumstances, trauma from the accident, likely to the head, neck and other vital organs, almost assuredly contributed to at least some of the deaths. Furthermore, reports indicate that some van passengers became trapped under the vehicle’s seats after the accident thereby requiring police to remove the seats from the vehicle to extricate the injured individuals. This fact reveals that it is extremely likely that at some of the vehicle’s passengers were not wearing safety belts or that the seat belts were not functioning properly. This scenario is made even more likely by reports that indicate that the van may have been overloaded and over capacity.

A van that is loaded beyond capacity makes it impossible for each occupant to wear a seat belt. Failure to wear a seat belt or safety harness while riding in a 15-passenger van significantly increases the fatality risk if the van is involved in a crash. NHTSA stats show that 83 percent of deaths occurred when the occupant was not wearing a seat belt.

According to reports, the injured were taken to four different area hospitals.  The 4-year-old who was injured in the crash was taken to a Fort Myers hospital and is listed in stable condition. A minimum of two passengers suffered severe injuries and were classified as trauma alerts.  Except for two passengers whose condition was unknown, the remaining passengers suffered injuries that ranged from moderate to severe.

Known Risks Associated With 15-Passenger Vans and Similar Vehicles

According to investigators, no one witnessed the crashed. Police were only alerted because one passenger was able to climb out of the crashed vehicle, and flag down a passing driver who called 911. However, there are certain characteristics of 15-passenger vans that make crashes and accidents more likely than in other vehicles. In fact, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that during the 10-year period from 1997 through the end of 2006, more than 1,000 people have died in crashes involving 15-passenger vans and similar vehicles.

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Studies have shown that as a 15-passenger van or conversion van is loaded with additional passengers, the weight of those individuals can begin to shift the vehicle’s center of gravity. As the vehicle nears its seating capacity, the center of gravity in the vehicle moves further to the rear. This shifting center of gravity causes the vehicle to perform differently based on the vehicle’s load. A driver that is inexperienced or who must make a split-second decision may not properly account for the weight and shifted vehicle balance making the risk of a rollover significantly greater. Vehicles that are unevenly loaded have a much higher chance of careening out of control. Studies have shown that a vehicle with 10 or more passengers, inclusive of the driver, is 3 times more likely to roll over than the same vehicle when loaded with 5 people or less.

Older Vehicle Models Often Lack Stability Control Safety Features

Additionally, 15-passenger commercial vans are known to be sensitive regarding changes in tire pressure. Vehicle load, ambient temperature and friction from the roadway are all factors in maintaining tire pressure. As vehicle load increase, tire pressure also increases. Depending on how the vehicle is loaded, this force may act unevenly on the front and rear tires. Likewise, as the ambient temperature and friction from the roadway causes temperature increases, the pressure of the tires also increases. If these factors causing changes in tire pressure were not already complex enough, matters are further complicated because the optimal inflation levels for the vehicle’s front and rear tires are different. Many drivers are unaware of this fact and it often leads to significant problems with maintaining proper tire pressure. The failure to keep the keep the tires properly inflated increases the risk of a tire blowout, vehicle rollover or generally that the driver will lose control.

Furthermore, vans produced before approximately 2005 may lack important safety features. One of the most notable is the lack of electronic stability control. Electronic stability control is a system that continually monitors a vehicle’s response to the driver’s input. The systems are typically comprised of a network of sensors that monitor brakes, vehicle positioning, the direction the vehicle is traveling in, and whether the vehicle is leaving the intended lane of travel. The system can correct for issues with vehicle responsiveness to the driver’s commands.

Studies performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have found that a properly functioning electronic stability control system can reduce the risk of a single-vehicle fatality by 49 percent. The system can reduce the rollover risk for cars by 72 percent and for SUVs by 75 percent. However, most vehicles reduced prior to 2005 are not equipped with the safety feature. Because the increased risk presented by 15-passenger vans without these systems is so great, a number of national organizations have banned their use. One of the most recent organizations to do so is the Boy Scouts of America. According to the blog for Scouting Magazine, 15-passenger vans produced before 2005 will no longer be permitted for any use in connection with Scouting activities.

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Injured by 15-Passenger Van?

If you have been seriously injured while riding in a 15-passenger van or similar vehicle, you already know about the significant medical bills you will face along with the loss of income that often accompanies a serious injury. For more than three decades, the experienced accident attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm have fought on behalf of those seriously injured due to a defective vehicle. For a free and confidential initial consultation, call (215) 246-9000 today.

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