Recently, a 15-passenger van was rear-ended by a dually pickup hauling a trailer. The news reported that four were killed, three were transported to MCV via helicopter and five others were transported to area hospitals via ambulance.
I am praying that the respective crash teams from Dinwiddie and Virginia State Police will determine all of the details that led to this crash. As a pastor of a church with two 15-passenger vans, I want to speak to the churches and organizations that own these vans. For a long time, 15-passenger vans carried the stigma of a higher-than-normal center of gravity, which was believed to cause frequent rollovers. Some churches have church buses that carry a higher number of passengers and require that drivers have a commercial driver’s license. A 15-passenger van, on the other hand, can be driven with a regular driver’s license. My hope is that we can do whatever is necessary to prevent the next crash from occurring.
Most churches own 15-passenger vans because a large number of people can be transported with no restrictions on who can drive the vans, except those imposed by the church or organization that owns them. As a firefighter, I taught many firefighters to drive emergency apparatus under emergency and non-emergency conditions. Part of the curriculum to drive a piece of emergency equipment involved the Emergency Vehicle Operator’s Course. Driving engines, ladder trucks, ambulances and other specialized equipment required passing a cone course, an over-the-road portion and a defensive driving course. I would venture to say that most churches and organizations owning 15-passenger vans do not have a driving test that each driver must pass before being qualified to drive.
Preventative maintenance was something that we did to fire apparatus seven days a week and 365 days a year. We did daily, weekly and monthly maintenance and certain things that had to be done annually. The point is that our apparatus was checked regularly. What does your church or organization do in the way of preventative maintenance?
Most church vans and buses sit for a period of time, and then they are started and driven. The engine, drive train, braking system, tires, exhaust system, wipers and lights need to be constantly checked for proper operation. Thankfully, Virginia requires an annual state inspection, but that cannot be considered the end-all. Van owners need to be proactive in maintaining these vehicles.
Once you know that drivers are as qualified as they can be and that the van is in the best possible mechanical condition, driving the van becomes the task at hand. If firefighters must take extreme measures to prevent being hit on roadways, why would we expect things to be different for our 15-passenger vans? Driving defensively not only concentrates on your driving, but also on the driving of others. Defensive driving anticipates what another driver might do. The driver must be mindful of everything around him or her. Roads where speed limits are high require a keen awareness, in the event that a driver has to pull off of or turn from these roads. A driver needs to give as much warning about his or her intentions and then do what he or she has to do quickly and safely. Unless it can be done hands free, one must not answer cell phones or text while driving. Driver distractions must be kept to an absolute minimum.
We carry priceless cargo in every van that leaves a church parking lot or a daycare center. Wouldn’t we want to do everything possible to ensure that we return safely from every trip that we take? Please do your part to prevent the next one from ever occurring!