It is not uncommon for churches to offer transportation to members of their congregation and the public. Group rides are given to persons who attend church services and other events. For many churches, transportation is provided on 15-passenger vans.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a consumer advisory urging colleges, church groups, and other users of 15-passenger vans to take specific steps to keep drivers and passengers safe — including buckling up every trip, every time.

NHTSA was established by the Highway Safety Act of 1970 and is dedicated
to achieving the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle and highway safety. The Agency works to help prevent crashes and the resulting costs in both human and monetary damages.

The Agency warns users of 15-passenger vans to never overload these vehicles. NHTSA research shows overloading 15-passenger vans increases rollover risk and makes the vehicles more unstable in handling maneuvers. In fact, 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate in single vehicle crashes that is nearly three times the rate of those that had fewer than five occupants. Further, incorrectly loaded cargo and passengers that affect center of gravity can also lead to a heightened risk of rollovers.

NHTSA research shows there’s a greater risk of rollover due to inexperienced drivers and improperly sized and/or inflated tires. This is why the agency urges vehicle users to make certain the vans have appropriately- sized and load rated tires that are properly inflated before every trip. NHTSA recommends that spare tires not be used as replacements for worn tires. In fact, many tire manufacturers recommend that tires older than 10 years not be used at all.

This topic is particularly relevant for churches because it poses a governance issue for church leadership. One of the fiduciary duties of church leaders is the duty of care. Heeding the advice of the NHTSA agency might seem reasonable in a court of law. The importance here is avoiding a court judgment and liability for negligence should an accident occur.

If your church uses 15-passenger vans, review the operating procedures. The church should have a policy on who is authorized to operate the van. Operating a 15-passenger van without an adequate policy and procedures is a governance risk for the church. Moreover, it is a safety risk for the passengers.

Safety Tips for Church 15-Passenger Vans:

  • Churches should never overload the vehicle with people or cargo.
  • Churches should ensure sure all passengers buckle up for every trip.
  • A church vehicle should be regularly maintained.
  • Churches should have suspension and steering components inspected according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and replace or repair these parts as necessary.
  • Churches should ensure that vehicles are equipped with properly sized and load-rated tires.
  • Churches should also make sure drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van.
  • Before every trip, drivers should check the tires for proper inflation, and make sure there are no signs of wear or damage. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner’s manual and on a door pillar.