Varsity athletes and other student group members may be putting themselves at risk when they travel in large vans.

The 15-passenger vans used to carry college sports teams and airport-bound passengers are more prone to rollover accidents when fully loaded, according to an April 9 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A study using crash data gathered between 1994 and 1997 found that vans carrying 10 or more passengers are almost three times more prone to rollovers than vehicles occupied by fewer people.

They found that vehicles carrying between one and nine passengers had a rollover ratio of 12.7 percent, while vans carrying 10 or more people had a 35.4 percent rollover ratio. Overloaded vans carrying 16 or more people had a 70 percent rollover ratio. According to the study, the rollover ratio is the likelihood that the van will flip in an accident.

Frequent use

UR has leased two of these vans and rents others as needed.

?We use these vans frequently and almost all of the varsity sports teams use them to some extent,? Director of Sports and Recreation George VanderZwaag said.

Members of the UR coaching staff drive the vans after a motor vehicle record check by the Office of Risk Management, which indicates whether people are permitted to drive based on their driving history.

VanderZwaag said that there have been no accidents involving these vans since he came to UR two years ago.

Center of gravity

The rollover risk exists because a van?s center of gravity shifts upward and toward the back when it is fully loaded increasing the risk of rollover accidents.

However, the NHTSA report also stressed there is nothing wrong with the 15-passenger vans, but drivers should understand their vehicles? limitations.

?You have a vehicle that behaves entirely differently than when they are lightly loaded,? NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said to the Associated Press. ?There is nothing inherently wrong with these vehicles as long as you understand those characteristics and take that into account.?

Accidents

This report was prompted by a series of rollover accidents involving college teams last year.

Four members of the Prairie View A&M University track team were killed and seven others were injured when their van rolled over. Other rollover accidents involved the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh swim team, the DePaul University women?s track team and the Kenyon College swim team.

According to the report, there are approximately 1.4 million 15-passenger vans registered in the United States.



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