- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Having thoroughly slandered sport-utility vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now turning its attention to passenger vans. As with SUVs, NHTSA is now warning of a higher-than-normal rollover risk for drivers and passengers of large vans the type used to ferry baseball teams, hotel guests, big families, etc. These vans are next up in size from minivans and include such models as the Ford Club Wagon and Econoline, GMC Savana and Dodge Ram Van. NHTSA claims these vans are three times more likely to be involved in rollover-type accidents when fully loaded with passengers and cargo. "Our concern is the handling characteristics of these vehicles changes dramatically when they are fully loaded with 10 or more passengers," said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson.
As with the charges of higher SUV rollover risk that were knocking around last summer, the NHTSA charge against large vans is misleading because it is premised on the idea that all vehicles are basically the same and therefore no special care or attention is needed when driving one vehicle vs. another. However, vans are similar to SUVs in that they tend to sit higher off the ground, have taller tires and are therefore less able to negotiate high-speed turns or deal with abrupt maneuvers with the same degree of stability as a conventional passenger car. If these design limitations are ignored by the driver, a rollover is, indeed, more likely than it would be in a passenger car.
But NHTSA, once again, is implying that the vans are inherently unsafe when whats really unsafe is the way theyre being used by some people. General Motors spokesman Michael Morrisey notes that "people should always remember that loading affects handling characteristics" and that "these are perfectly safe vehicles … if they are used properly."
The fundamental problem here is NHTSAs approach, which is to lull people into a false sense of security when operating such multipurpose or specialty vehicles as SUVs and large vans. Instead, of peddling such counterproductive flapdoodle, NHTSA should be educating consumers about the different handling characteristics and driving dynamics of various categories of vehicles. That would go a lot further toward saving lives than the current approach.

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