FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
DMV COMMISSIONER AND FEDERAL OFFICIALS CALL ATTENTION TO SAFETY ISSUES RELATED TO MULTI-PASSENGER VANS
Letter Sent to Registrants of Multi-Passenger Vans Following Fatal Thruway Crash
On September 18, 2010, a 1997 minivan carrying 14 members of a Bronx church crashed on the New York State Thruway near Woodbury. Several unrestrained passengers were ejected when the van rolled over in the median. The crash killed six people and injured another eight, including the driver. In the wake of that tragic crash, Commissioner David J. Swarts of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Chair of the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC), along with two federal officials, have urged registrants of 9-, 12- and 15-passenger vans to take critical precautions to ensure the safety of all passengers.
In a letter mailed to owners of multi-passenger vehicles across the state on October 25, 2010, three critical traffic-safety issues related to these vans were highlighted: the choice and maintenance of tires; the use of seat belts and child safety seats; and driver attention to the handling characteristics of the vehicle, particularly in inclement weather. The letter was co-signed by Administrator David L. Strickland of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Administrator Anne S. Ferro of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA).
"We are reaching out to the registrants of these vehicles with important safety advice," Commissioner Swarts said. "First, have a qualified service center verify that the vehicle has the appropriate tires and that the tires and suspension system are in safe condition. Second, every vehicle occupant must use the appropriate safety restraint. And third, drivers must be aware of the different handling characteristics of larger vehicles from regular passenger vehicles."
"To prevent future tragedies, it's vital that all 15-passenger van users take appropriate safety precautions. For safe trips, van users need to inspect the tires and check tire pressure before each use," said Administrator Strickland. "These vehicles are also very sensitive to loading and should not be overloaded under any circumstances. Agency research shows overloading not only increases rollover risk but makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers. It's also important to buckle up and make sure there is an experienced driver behind the wheel."
"It is critical that passenger van operators take proactive steps to ensure their vehicles are properly maintained, and their drivers are fully trained and licensed. Failure to make safety the first priority can lead to preventable tragedies, such as the fatal rollover crash in New York," said Administrator Ferro. "FMCSA will continue to work with our New York State partners to heighten the safety awareness of passenger van operators and everyone who rides in them."
The size and weight of these vans can put added stress on the tires and suspension systems, especially when the vehicles are loaded with passengers. A tire failure can result in the driver losing control of the van and possibly lead to a rollover. It is critical to passenger safety that tires have the appropriate load rating and are in good condition and inflated to the proper air pressure.
NHTSA recommends van registrants check the date of manufacture of all the tires, including the spare. Tires degrade over time and manufacturers recommend that consumers not use tires older than 10 years, even if they have not reached the legal wear limit.
All vehicle passengers should be properly buckled up, particularly occupants of multi-passenger vans. Using seat belts significantly increases the chances of surviving, because the belted occupant remains within the confines of the vehicle and is not ejected. In New York State, 21 percent of motor vehicle occupants killed in crashes were unrestrained.
Under New York State law, the driver and each passenger in the front seat of a motor vehicle must wear a seat belt. Passengers under age 16 must wear an appropriate safety restraint, regardless of seating position. Passengers between ages four and eight are required to be restrained by an appropriate child safety booster seat with a seatbelt, and any passenger under the age of four must be in a child safety seat.
Drivers of 9-, 12- and 15-passenger vans should be properly licensed, fully trained and experienced in controlling the vehicle in any unexpected driving situation. Such vans can be more difficult than passenger cars to steer and stop, particularly when loaded with passengers or in high-wind conditions. Vehicles which are taller/higher can be top heavy, increasing the risk of rollover when making sudden maneuvers like swerving to avoid an object or traveling too fast into a sharp curve.
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