15-PASSENGER VANS

 
Many operations involve using vans and other utility vehicles. The article below by Alan Sidorov, originally printed in the Winnipeg Free Press, should be useful in explaining our approach and training philosophy. We highly recommend on-road check rides as well as follow-up reviews to enhance the benefits of our programs. Driver improvement can lower vehicle expenses such as fuel and maintenance, as well as reducing crash damage and insurance costs.
 
 
Misunderstandings on the Road to Safety

Here we go, typically, chasing the wrong monster. Following this past winterís fatal 15-passenger van crash in New Brunswick, radio, television and print media were filled with stories about the dangers of these vehicles. A little clearing of the air seems appropriate. Any vehicle is only safe when driven within its dynamic capabilities. A van, therefore, must be driven as what it is, a somewhat awkward box. The commonly stated statistic is that 15-passenger vans are three times more likely to roll over than other vehicles. Look, if you drive it like a sedan, that is in all probability true. Of course, it is also true of passenger buses, ambulances, oil tankers, and just about every commercial vehicle on the road. Is the answer to simply ban them all, or can we do better through a combination of technology, safety advances and operator training? My advanced driving school has done a number of schools locally for 15-passenger van users, including RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler), and the success rate is very high.

Let me state clearly that I am in no way acting as an apologist for the automotive industry. That collective group deserves a solid smack upside the head for ducking safety regulations in the rush for profit. When pickups and minivans were labelled as small trucks, they did not need to meet rollover standards or much of anything else regarding occupant safety. Owners also fuelled a fantasy, based on a pickupís ability to withstand low-speed collisions without visible damage, that these things were somehow safe. I hope that those days are behind us now.

Any of you who attended a racing school in the past few years would have, as part of the introduction, been treated to a lap or two of the track, more likely than not in a 15-passenger van. We hustle these things along at a decent pace. With a professional racer at the helm, it is nevertheless a safe demonstration. Years ago, when teaching for the Jim Russell Racing Driverís School in England, I used a long-wheelbase Land Rover for similar demo laps, again without incident.

I am not trying to encourage speed from those who are driving utility vehicles. Just the opposite. A racetrack is a good place to work on this stuff, with an ambulance at every corner. The street is not. However, we need to examine the move that is most likely to make a vehicle roll, and that is the secondary reaction of the suspension. This is the thing operators of all vehicles, especially those with higher centres of gravity, need to be aware of.

Imagine driving in a straight line, then sharply dialling in a lot of steering for an emergency swerve to the left. Chances are most vehicles will execute this part without rolling, even a big bus or semi. However, the stage has been set for the nasty bits. All the load shifts to the right, flexing springs, tires, suspension parts, even bodywork. If the driver then swerves sharply to the right, there is a release of energy, causing a secondary reaction that is very difficult to deal with, even in a well-balanced sports sedan. A trained driver will understand that the second turn of the wheel must be more measured, used to calm the suspension, not agitate it. Steer-settle is the mantra. In skid control, each fishtail of a vehicle increases this suspension reaction. There, the acronym is CPR, or correct, pause, recover. Any fishtailing means the driver was mentally and physically behind the process.

If panic occurs when the brain perceives no alternative for action, then providing trained response techniques should help. In many years of teaching advanced driving and skid control, all over the world, I have yet to find a logical argument against skill development. It must be tied to attitude training, and yes, a good dose of engineering will be useful as well. We could live with that sort of package.