In november the National Transportation Safety Board expressed concerns about the safety of vehicles that many church youth groups depend on: 15-passenger vans. The Board called for federal regulators and automakers to add electronic stability control systems to the vehicles. It also asked regulators to expand rollover ratings so that the vans will receive the same government testing as other passenger vehicles.
Three days later, a Texas lawyer who had represented victims of a May 2001 van accident told the NTSB of evidence that DaimlerChrysler has known for seven years that its Dodge vans are unstable during tire failures and other emergencies.
Then Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader, jumped in, calling automakers to also install two additional rear wheels and to reinforce the vans' bodies and roofs. Federal regulators should ban the sale of the vans until the changes are made, said Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook, a former federal highway safety executive. The problem, she notes, is that the large vans were initially created to haul cargo, not passengers. "They know these vehicles are not safe, yet they keep selling them," she told The New York Times.
There is clear cause for concern. Public Citizen says 864 riders in 15-passenger vans were killed in accidents between 1990 and 2000. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—the agency empowered with requiring vehicle changes—says the blame cast on the automakers is exaggerated. "We have said consistently that we don't feel this is a vehicle problem," a spokeswoman told the Times. "We don't believe these vehicles are inherently dangerous. The majority of the fatalities … result from a combination of driver ...1