Safety concerns surround vans frequently used by churches

WASHINGTON — Investigators are still looking into last weekend’s deadly crash involving a pickup truck and a church van in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

It’s too early to say what caused or contributed to the accident, but the Prince George’s County police say the 15-passenger van had 16 people inside.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has repeatedly warned never to overload 15-passenger vans because it can make them more difficult to drive and more likely to roll over.

“Fifteen-passenger vans that are still used by far too many churches have a horrendous safety record,” says John Townsend, with AAA-Mid Atlantic. “And despite repeated warnings from federal officials, most churches have never even heard of the risks associated with these vans.”

Contributing to the problem is the fact that many people who drive 15-passenger vans are inexperienced in handling these bigger vehicles.

Also very important is to make sure tires are not too old or underinflated, and that every passenger wears a seat belt.

According to NHTSA, 653 people nationwide died in crashes while riding in 15-passenger vans between 2004 and 2013, or about 65 people per year.

Of those killed, almost 60 percent were in vans that rolled over, and at least 70 percent were not wearing seat belts.

NHTSA's 15 Passenger Van Infographic

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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