Big vans eliminated, driver requirements change

Washington State University is in the process of ‘right sizing’ its fleet of passenger vans to increase safety and limit everyone’s risk.

Briefly put, WSU is phasing out all 12- and 15-passenger vans and replacing them with 7- or 8-passenger vans. Some requirements include:

* increasing the minimum van driver experience to five years

* requiring that drivers have no major citations or at-fault accidents for the previous three years

* no more than three minor moving violations of any type in the past three years

* requiring that tire inflation be checked with every trip

* mandating all drivers and passengers wear seat belts when a van is in use

Here’s why. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued several consumer advisory bulletins on the safety of 15-passenger vans, citing their vulnerability to rollover (see, then search on “vans”). In addition, the state’s Risk Management Division has issued a report on 15-passenger vans (see and has given the university specific recommendations. In turn, WSU has established a schedule to implement all of these issues over the next several months.

WSU has approximately 200 vans — 95 cargo and 105 passenger. Under the new regulations, about 60 passenger vans — owned, leased and rented — are slated to be replaced.

“Departments universitywide are inventorying their van fleets,” said Rick Fadness, WSU’s risk management and insurance coordinator. “The Motor Pool expects to take delivery of 30 new 7- or 8-passenger vans by March 1 and another six by June.”

NHTSA research has shown that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to more than 10. In fact, full 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 vans that were lightly loaded (with fewer than five occupants).

NHTSA research consistently showed that improperly inflated tires can change the handling characteristics of larger vans, increasing the prospect of a rollover. Its study found that 74 percent of all 15-passenger vans had improperly inflated tires. By contrast, 39 percent of passenger cars were found with significant inflation problems.

Nearly 80 percent of those who died in 15-passenger van rollovers nationwide between 1990 and 2003 were not buckled up. Wearing safety belts dramatically increases the chances of survival during a rollover crash. In fatal, single-vehicle rollovers involving 15-passenger vans over the past decade, 91 percent of belted occupants survived.

Between 1992 and 2002, there were 1,576 recorded crashes nationwide involving 15-passenger vans. Of those, 349 were single-vehicle rollovers. During this 10-year period, the study identified 581 deaths in 15-passenger van rollover accidents.

The state’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) appointed a Loss Prevention Review Team (LPRT) to review 15-passenger van rollover accidents in the state. The report investigated two rollover incidents: a WSU van rollover on March 6, 2004 involving a sports club (no one was hospitalized) and the Columbia Basin Community College van rollover on Dec. 15, 2003 (resulting in two deaths). Both incidents involved driver error and other extenuating circumstances. The LPRT recently issued its report and recommendations, available at

WSU has published its new Safety Policies and Procedures Manual S35.14, titled “Driving University Vans,” available at

“The university is moving swiftly to restrict and phase out large-passenger van usage while providing for more experienced and safer drivers for all passenger vans,” said Fadness.

“Implementation includes all university-owned, commercially leased or rented vans. This plan addresses the needs of the university community and sets out a reasonable timeline to reduce and then eliminate use of large vans for passenger transportation. The university is proceeding as quickly as practicable to replace its fleet of large passenger vans with smaller vans.

“While these new guidelines will have a significant impact on the way we conduct many of our activities, camps and programs, they also provide enhanced safety for our drivers and passengers,” Fadness said.

If you have any questions regarding implementation of this policy, you can contact Rick Fadness at 335-6893, or

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