Ford, GM to make safer large vans
Faced with government criticism and civil lawsuits, American auto companies have promised to add stability control to their large vans, which are very popular among church groups.

General Motors says it will offer electronic stability control on its 12-passenger vans starting with its 2005 models. It is already keeping its vow to make the stability control a standard feature on 15-passenger vans in 2004 and subsequent models.

Ford is jumping in, too, promising to add stability control standard in 15-passenger vans starting with its 2006 models (it's not clear from news reports whether this will be a standard feature or an option).

"Ford dominates the large van segment," notes The Detroit News, with 53 percent of the market for 15-passenger vans belonging to its Club Wagon models.

But market competition may not be the only reason the auto companies are adding anti-rollover technology. Late last month, Ford settled a hefty lawsuit over a 2002 van rollover crash that killed three American missionaries in Mexico. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but a similar case in 1999 that went to the jury ended up with a $20 million judgment.

Since then, large vans have only come under increasing scrutiny. Most devastating were two consumer warnings issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board that the vans be retrofitted with stability control or additional wheels.

In introducing the new features, the automakers are emphasizing their belief that the vans are safe as they are. "We remain confident that this is a very safe vehicle," Ford said in a written statement. Similarly, GM's vehicle line executive for commercial trucks and vans told The Detroit News that the new stability controls are a way to "take what we believe is already a safe vehicle and make it even safer."

The more than 700 people killed in large van rollover crashes over past 20 years may have had something to say about that—if they weren't dead. But surely this is good news for churches wanting to keep their youth groups safe in their travels.

Still, Public Citizen, an advocacy group that has been leading the charge on 15-passenger van safety, says the automakers aren't going far enough. The stability control system "is no substitute for a full redesign of these deathtraps," Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook says in a press release. "This system won't fix the fundamental hazards that are designed into these vans and are evident in crashes. The vehicles have extremely weak roofs that crush in a rollover, jeopardizing the heads and spines of passengers and opening large portals for ejection. They also have weak doors and poor safety belt systems that fail to keep passengers in place during a crash."

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Southern Baptist workers killed in Iraq:



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Euthanasia trial in New Zealand:

Life ethics:

Abortion and free speech:

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  • Second coming | Ralph Reed, now born again as a political strategist, has moved on from doing God's work to doing George W. Bush's (The Atlantic Monthly)

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  • Cultural icons and alternative religions | Recent books on religion and spirituality (The Washington Post)

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Federal Marriage Amendment:

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Gay marriage (news):

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Gay marriage (opinion):

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Gay marriage and religion:

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