• Defensive Driving Rule #39: Drive Your Van Safely

    Vans are involved in collisions at a higher rate than passenger sedans. You should think about the reasons why, especially if you drive a van infrequently and are less experienced in their characteristics. The most common van mishaps stem from backing unsafely, stopping, and rollovers. Wonder why?

    Backing: Statistically, backing is an unusually risky maneuver in vans. This is because of the visibility limitations (high, or no windows causing large blind spots and the need for backing solely using side mirrors in some cases). Plan ahead so you don't have to back up -- if you don't back, then you cannot have a backing collision! Park so you can pull forward when leaving. If you can't, then do the backing when you arrive. That way, you are backing into a parking space you can plainly see is clear, rather than backing out into traffic later. Beware of blind areas, which are significantly larger than those of a passenger sedan. Use an outside spotter, or stop and get out of the vehicle to check your clearances. You should also do a walk-around inspection before backing -- other vehicles can be hidden by your van's blind spots. Make sure your mirrors are adjusted and clean. Don't back further than necessary and don't back where you cannot see.

    Stopping: Don't follow other vehicles too closely when driving vans and other high profile vehicles. Remember the standard two-second following distance rule? Well, that's a minimum for perfect conditions and normal-sized vehicles. In a van, you should use a greater distance routinely, at least 3 or 4 seconds. Vans are often built on passenger car chasses, and many do not have the heavy-duty brakes and suspensions that a truck should have. This increases the distances needed for stopping and indicates the need for greater following distances. The more weight you have, the longer it takes to stop, same thing for speed. Combine the two and you have a potentially deadly situation, all while you sit in blissful, air-conditioned and distracted comfort! Reduce your following risk -- back off and slow down!

    Rollovers: Vans and SUV's are often unstable driving platforms. With higher centers of gravity, the ability to carry more weight, and the added the energy developed by weight and speed, it is EASY to cause a rollover simply by introducing a sudden (even relatively minor) outside force, and especially when a turning movement introduces centrifugal force into the mix. Crosswinds, passing trucks, busses, even dust-devils or whirlwinds, acting on a high profile vehicle like a van, can introduce the sudden triggering force needed to initiate a rollover.

    The weight of a fully loaded, full-size van can easily exceed 11,000 lbs. Even at slightly over 50 mph, this equals 3.2 million foot-pounds of force that will be expended in any collision. You need to make sure you, your passengers, and the occupants of the vehicles around you are not the ones that absorb these forces. When driving a van, reduce your risks. Make sure tires are inflated properly and in good shape. Make no sudden turns. Adjust the driver's seat and wear seat belts, make sure mirrors are adjusted properly. Control your passengers. Do not overload the van; know the limits and don't exceed them. Keep weight loaded low in the vehicle. Use two hands on van steering wheels. Keep speeds lower and slow down before reaching curves. Check road and weather conditions. Expect wind gusts anywhere, anytime.

    Drive friendly!