The following guide lists four specific hazards associated with the operation of large passenger vans and standard safety controls for these hazards. A key element in controlling the hazards of large van operations is driver training. Driver training should include classroom training designed to raise awareness of the additional hazards present in operating a large van vs. a standard passenger vehicle. It should also include supervised, behind-the-wheel training using the specific type of vehicle a driver will be operating in similar conditions. By law, a commercial drivers license (CDL) is required any time a driver operates a vehicle carrying 16 passengers (the driver counts as a passenger). CDL licensing entails an initial medical physical with drug screen, successful completion of a DOT written test, successful completion of a road test using a vehicle similar to the one to be operated under similar conditions, random drug testing and post accident drug testing, and continuing medical evaluations every two years. Employers must maintain DOT drivers files and vehicle maintenance logs.

1. Occupant Injuries Caused by Vehicle Rollover
The 15-passenger van is more likely to rollover than any other type of vehicle. Principle causes are they are “boxy” and have a high center of gravity. They react poorly to abrupt steering. This hazard is exaggerated by excessive speed, vehicle loads, poor routine maintenance (specifically, 74 percent of van tires are misinflated vs. 24 percent of normal passenger car tires) and lack of seatbelt use - 92 percent of van passengers involved in rollovers survive if they used seatbelts vs. 23 percent that survive a rollover if not restrained.

Safe driving techniques are critical. Due to the weight and configuration of the vehicle, drivers must drive slower than with standard-passenger vehicles. A rollover is five times more likely on a high-speed road (highway) than a low-speed road. A rollover is twice as likely on curved roads. A three-second rule for following distance for a standard-passenger vehicle is standard for peak driving conditions; a five-second rule is standard for a 15-passenger van due to increased stopping distances. Drivers' arms should be lower on the steering wheel than a standard passenger vehicle to curtail abrupt steering. Many rollovers are caused by over-correcting, specifically when trying to avoid a collision or trying to return to the road surface after driving onto the shoulder.

Passengers and cargo should be toward the front of the vehicle and evenly distributed ahead of the rear axle. No cargo should be stored on top of the vehicle or towed. The more passengers/weight in the van, the higher the center of gravity. A daily pre-trip inspection of the vehicle is very important - tires, windows, mirrors, lights, horn, seatbelts, etc. A documented pre-trip inspection should be done at least weekly to include a tire inflation
check. A driver needs to be aware of the van’s braking system - ABS vs. standard. This will effect how braking is applied (steady pressure vs. pumping) in an emergency.

It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure seatbelts are present in the vans, and that they are accessible and used by all passengers.

2. Occupant Injuries Caused by Collision
Many of the hazards and controls for rollover accidents are identical for collisions - excessive speed, vehicle loads, poor routine maintenance, and lack of seatbelt use. It is important to note challenging schedules for drivers increase the likelihood of an accident. When a driver is on a tight schedule, they are more inclined to use poor driving techniques like driving too fast for conditions, excessive lane changes, and improper turns.

Due to the weight and configuration of the vehicle, drivers must drive slower than standard-passenger vehicles (usually slower than posted speed limits). A three-second rule for following distance for a standard-passenger vehicle is standard for peak driving conditions; a five-second rule is standard for a 15-passenger van due to increased stopping distances. Drivers should be in the habit of staying in the right lane at all times unless they need to make left turn. Aggressive driving should not be tolerated for a van driver. Due to the size and weight of the vehicle, turning requires extra caution. The driver needs to signal his intention to turn, reduce the vehicle’s speed, and make a wider turn than a standard vehicle, once it is safe to do so.

3. Driver Preparation
It is important that a driver is prepared for each trip. The most common cause of a vehicle crash is a distracted driver. To prevent this type of accident, a driver must be physically prepared for the trip and have planned ahead to allow for plenty of time.

Drivers must have adequate rest prior to a trip. When allowed, have an alert passenger in the front passenger seat. All drivers should be subject to routine drug and alcohol testing. When planning a trip, be sure to include time for a pre-trip vehicle inspection. Also, check the weather forecast. Always plan trips around severe weather conditions. The performance of a van deteriorates significantly in poor weather. Avoid driving in icy conditions and drive slower in wet or windy conditions.

Drivers should pre-plan a trip to preclude looking at maps while driving. Do not use cell phones or two-way radios while driving. If radios are required, communicate only when stopped and/or assign communications to a responsible passenger.

4. Backing Accidents
70 percent of large van accidents occur while backing up. The rear is the largest blind spot for a van.

The primary control for backing accidents is not to back a van. Drivers should pull into parking areas that do not require backing whenever possible. If you must back a van, use a spotter even if the vehicle is equipped with a rearview camera. It is important that you keep the spotter in view at all times when backing and understand hand signals given by the spotter. If no spotter is available, the driver must physically walk around the vehicle prior to backing. This is not as desirable as conditions may change once the driver returns to the vehicle. While backing up, ensure the driver’s window is down, radios are turned off, and there is no excessive noise from passengers.

Additional Resources
WCF Insurance Safety Department
(385) 351-8103

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NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.