Owners of 15-passenger vans should expect a letter in their mailbox soon — and it isn’t good news.
Kansas Departments of Revenue and Transportation are sending out 5,000 letters to all the registered owners of 15-passenger vans in Kansas to alert them to the safety concerns surrounding these vehicles.
The letters, which are rare, were prompted by a consumer advisory from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That advisory came after two fatal rollover crashes in New York and Georgia.
“I think it is the fact that 10 people lost their lives that really sparked this,” KDOT spokesman Chris Bortz said.
The NHTSA has found that the 15-passenger vans have a higher risk of rolling over and those risks increase when the van is fully loaded.
Research also found that fatal rollovers of the vans most likely involved tire failure.
Since 2005, federal law prohibits schools from using 15-passenger vans to transport high school age and younger students.
In particular, the NHTSA wanted to alert church groups, nonprofit organizations and colleges that were keeping older 15-passenger vans in service because of tight budgets.
In Lawrence, the safety concerns surrounding 15-passenger vans has already prompted changes.
Of its fleet of 90 vans, Kansas University has only two vans that carry 15 passengers, said Steve Green, associate director of facilities operations.
About a decade ago, KU adopted a policy that outlawed the purchase of 15-passenger vans because of a study that showed the high risk of rollovers. Most were replaced with 12-passenger vans, Green said.
Of the two remaining vans, one is a 1998 model and the other one was purchased after a special request was made by the geology department.
For Lawrence Public Schools, the large vans haven’t been used in years, said Rick Gammill, the director of special operations, safety and transportation.
Cottonwood Inc., a nonprofit that provides services to those with disabilities, has one 15-passenger van out of its fleet of 39.
Peggy Wallert, director of community relations and development, said the organization plans to replace it next year with a smaller van.
“We just feel that all around, it’s better for us to have the 12-passenger or smaller vehicle,” Wallert said.
The letter the two state agencies sent to van owners will arrive in the next few days. Included in the letter are these safety tips for owners:
• Properly maintain the vehicle.
• Make sure the van is operated by a fully-trained and experienced driver.
• Never overload the van.
• Use the right size of tires.
• Check the tires to make sure they are properly inflated and not worn.