Government issued safety warnings about 15 passenger vans more 14 years ago

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. The safety of 15 passenger vans is being called into question, again, after a deadly crash last week near Bolivar.

Three teenagers from Kansas, on their way to a youth outing in Branson, were killed.

We now know the government has issued several warnings about the dangers of these vehicles.

A report, nearly 50 pages long, was issued by the National Transportation Safety Board 14 years ago. It analyzes the crashes of 15 passenger vans from 1990 to 2002. It looked at more than 1,500 accidents that killed more than 1,100 people.

"We all drive everyday thinking that we're invincible. We can do anything, anytime, anyway. That's not really the case," said J. Howard Fisk.

Fisk is the owner of Fisk Limo. His company leases large passenger vehicles, including vans similar to the ones involved in last week's crash.

"Being in business for 42 years, we've had a long time to learn, not from mistakes but just through common sense," he said.

Fisk hands drivers a safety check list with tips that come directly from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For some, like attorney Christine Spagnoli, guidelines aren't enough.

"The design of these vehicles is really the problem," she said.

Spagnoli has spent the last few decades fighting on behalf of people hurt or killed in 15 passenger van accidents in court.

She and Fisk have closely read the government's crash report.

"When you look at statistics it's frightening how easy it is to be injured or to lose your life," said Fisk.

Spagnoli said, "There is no other class of vehicle on the road today where the government has issued a safety advisory."

Warnings have been issued by a few government agencies about the safety of the vans. They report that the vehicle is more likely to rollover when loaded than unloaded.

Fisk is making a move towards safety.

"We're converting our whole fleet over to GM models that have StabiliTrak," he said.

It helps drivers to better control the van's steering.

Spagnoli said that despite the warnings issued over the past several years, the vans will stay on the roads.

"The manufactures of these vehicles have basically decided it's probably cheaper to deal with the lawsuits then pay people as they happen than to pull them off the market," she said.

Educating drivers may be the only definite safety measure.

"It's a matter of we learn, they learn. We caution churches and schools and people we work with to be careful," he said.

Spagnoli said, "Really what we have to do is call people's attention to the dangers."

The NTSB report also stated that a majority of the passengers involved in the crashes they studied were not wearing seat belts.