Update: 15 Passenger Vans … New York Times Article Reinforces Concerns

A recent The New York Times article may have some in the camp industry wondering where the 15-passenger van issue is headed. In late-August The New York Times reported that a number of insurers have or are now making plans to eliminate coverage for these vehicles, which are used by many camps and related programs.

As previously reported in CampLine, on April 15 of this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reissued a cautionary warning to users of 15-passenger vans. The agency warned of an increased rollover risk under certain conditions. A similar warning was issued in 2001, when the NHTSA warned that 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants are three times as likely to roll over in crashes than 15-passenger vans that are lightly loaded. Despite the agency’s efforts last year to warn about the vehicles’ handling characteristics, accidents involving the vehicles have continued.

On August 24, The New York Times reported that officials from the NHTSA have concluded that the vans, which are also commonly used by camps, are not inherently dangerous. Many of the problems, the article reports, are attributable to “. . . inexperienced drivers piloting fully loaded vehicles.” Yet the article goes on to report that the Colorado School District’s Self-Insurance Pool, one of the largest insurers of public schools in that state, stopped issuing new coverage for the vans in July, and on top of the average premium cost of $750 per vehicle, it has begun imposing a $500 surcharge for customers with up to ten 15-passenger vans in their fleet.

The New York Times also reported that GuideOne, a leading insurer of churches and their vehicles, announced in mid-August that it had stopped selling new policies for 15-passenger vans, but would continue coverage on the 10,000 vans it already insures by raising rates 20 – 25 percent. Two other large church insurers, according The New York Times, Church Mutual and Brotherhood Mutual, have issued safety advisories.

“The 15-passenger van is the church vehicle of choice,” Church Mutual’s Richard Schaber told The New York Times. “So we need to insure them,” Schaber went on to say.

In Tennessee, the Department of Human Services, which oversees day care centers that use hundreds of the vans to transport small children, is imposing new requirements for drivers and by 2005 will ban the use of the vehicles, The New York Times reported.

Fatal rollovers, according to The New York Times article, have continued — most recently in late June, when a Ford Econoline van carrying firefighters in Colorado crashed, killing five passengers. Between 1990 and 2000, 15-passenger vans were involved in 388 rollovers, killing 558 people, government records show.

The American Camping Association continues to strongly encourage its members to require adequate training for drivers of 15-passenger vans, limit the amount of weight placed on the vehicle, and as always, require seat belts to ensure occupant safety.


Originally published in the 2002 Fall issue of The CampLine.