12- and 15-Passenger Vans: Updating our Position

In 2003, a 15-passenger van transporting campers and counselors rolled over in a crash. Kaitlyn, a 13-year-old Counselor-In-Training, died in the crash. Again in 2004, a 15-passenger van transporting children for a youth-program rolled, killing Guadalupe, an 11-year-old girl enrolled in the program.

In response to these tragedies, Redwoods took a strong position on the use of 12- and 15-passenger vans in 2004—asking our customers to discontinue the use of these vans in favor of safer alternatives. The reasons were simple:

  • 12- and 15-passenger vans were designed to carry cargo, not people
  • The vans’ uneven weight distribution (from passenger aisle, high roof and seating extending beyond the rear axel), gave the van a higher propensity for rolling over and tire blow out
  • The lack of side impact protection caused the vans’ walls to crumple in a rollover, causing more severe injury and death

We are profoundly grateful for how our customers received this message, working hard to implement safer alternatives in order to keep their communities safe. Together, over several years, we significantly reduced the number of vans being used to transport children.

We want to recognize that work, and we continue to encourage you to transport people in buses, mini-buses, SUVs and mini-vans wherever possible. This remains our priority.

Our Updated Position

Thanks to improvements made by the automotive industry, we are now accepting some specific models of 12- and 15-passenger vans to be used by our customers. Below this message are the details of how our guidance is changing—and also how it is staying the same.

Once again, we want to say thank you to all of you for your support and collaboration in tackling the risk of unsafe 12- and 15-passenger vans. The work we did together made a difference—both in directly protecting children in your care, and in creating an environment where manufacturers felt obliged to step up and make improvements.

Thank you for continuing to work with us to raise the bar for what is considered safe.

Gareth Hedges
President, The Redwoods Group


What You Need to Know

What’s Changed?
The automotive industry has been working hard to respond to safety concerns. Several models are now available with innovations that seek to address the safety deficits of previous models. In recognition of these improvements, we are updating our policy to allow customers to use certain 12- and 15-passenger vans. In order to qualify, vans must be manufactured after 2011 and be equipped with the following safety features:

  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring
  • Side Curtain Airbags
  • Center Aisle

Which Vans Qualify?
Acceptable vans, in order of preference, are as follows:

  1. Ford Transit Low Roof
  2. Nissan NV 3500
  3. Ford Transit Medium Roof

Despite improvements, it’s important to note that these vans are still rated relatively poorly for safety—and will cost more to insure as a result. School buses, minibuses and minivans continue to be our preferred vehicles for transporting children.

Which Vans Do Not Qualify?
The following vans do not yet meet our safety criteria and should not be used by our customers:

  • Ford E-350
  • Chevrolet Express 3500
  • GMC Savana
  • Ford Transit High Roof
  • Mercedes Benz Sprinter 2500

What about the Transportation Action Plan?
The Transportation Action Plan (TAP), which we have asked all customers using 12- and 15-passenger vans to commit to, remains an important and useful tool for protecting your communities. Even if your organization does end up purchasing approved vans, the TAP remains relevant. Specifically, the requirement that customers do not pull a trailer or load cargo on the roof continues to apply even with these new, approved models. And renting unapproved vans is also still prohibited.