Inexperienced Drivers and Poorly-Designed Vehicles such as SUV’s and Passenger Vans: A Lethal Combination
Despite years of warnings about the tendency of oversized vehicles such as SUVs and passenger vans to roll over, the oversized passenger van has become steadily more popular. The problem is that, as the sizes of these vehicles increase and their designs become more elaborate, they become more dangerous to handle. This is the case for the increasingly popular 15-passenger van—especially when it’s driven by an inexperienced driver. The combination of dangerous design and inexperience is indeed a lethal one.
15-passenger vans, like SUVs, have a high center of gravity, which means that they can be easily destabilized by accident-avoidance maneuvers, or by slick, icy roads—causing them to roll over. In addition, improperly sized or inflated tires on these vehicles can increase the chance of blow-outs or flat tires, which also creates instability.
Under certain conditions, even a properly inflated tire can have an increase in pressure, when additional weight and highway heat are added to mix. This is particularly true in hot and sunny places in the U.S., and in temperate countries around the world, where the surface temperatures of roadways can be dangerously high. A defective or over-inflated tire can explode from the combination of heat, elevated pressure, and friction on the hot roadway surface. If there is a blow-out, the long tail—or 4-foot overhang of the van—will wag the body, causing it to serpentine, become uncontrollable, and roll.
Despite their large seating capacity, these vehicles are vulnerable to overloading. Since adding passengers raises a vehicle’s center of gravity, a 15-passenger van will become harder to handle, the more passengers and luggage are packed into it. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the chances of rollover for a 15-passenger van increase more than 400 percent when it’s fully loaded.
While such exotic features as stadium seating may thrill passengers, they do not protect them from the danger of accidents. Many passengers in these vehicles seem to believe they are invincible while riding in them, and do not use seat belts. During the period of 2007-2011, 62 percent of individuals fatally injured in 15-passenger vans were unrestrained, and, of those, 54 percent were fully ejected from the vehicle. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the death rate for occupants of 15-passenger vans is higher than for all other passenger vehicle types combined.
What is of special concern to me, as a 15-passenger van rollover and SUV rollover attorney, is the fact that many people who drive these vehicles do so sporadically, and are inexperienced. For an inexperienced or inadequately trained driver, the responsibility of handling such a vehicle is enormous—both in terms of safety and liability. A camp counselor taking kids on a field trip, or a volunteer transporting a church group to a fundraising event, are equally at risk of getting into a serious accident. And, since most often these vehicles are rented, drivers have little opportunity to practice using them.
The reason experience is so necessary for driving these large vans is that their extreme length, width, and height make them harder to drive than smaller vehicles. Drivers must rely heavily on side mirrors to change lanes, judge distances, and negotiate the road. They must also be keenly aware of braking distances and special handling characteristics. And they must have the driving skills to park large vehicles. For an inexperienced driver, even simple things like backing up, or driving around a corner can be hard. Turning the steering wheel too far is enough to cause the van’s gravity to shift.
Having investigated and prosecuted cases where numerous victims have been killed or catastrophically injured in 15-passenger van accidents, we understand the trauma involved. We also understand how design defects in oversized vehicles can cause such calamities.
If you are the victim or family member of a 15-passenger van accident, you need to contact an experienced lawyer with a track record of beating automobile manufacturers in court. Such cases are complicated to litigate, and require skillful investigation and special expertise.
The 15-passenger van rollover and SUV rollover attorneys at Reiff and Bily have been recognized by their peers as having the highest possible rating in both legal abilities and ethical standards. They are consistently recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers, and are members of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Attorneys. Contact them for a free, no obligation consultation.