Day cares carry kids in ‘killer’ vans
MILWAUKEE- Passenger vans with a well documented reputation for deadly roll-over accidents are still in use by Wisconsin child care providers, despite calls for safer ways to transport children to and from school.
As other states were banning child care providers from using these vans, Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families released a policy in 2010 telling providers to carry on.
The extended or 15 passenger vans are easy to spot.
The vans get their name from a body that extends several feet beyond their chassis, allowing an extra row of seats at the rear of the vehicle.
That extra length and extra row, safety experts say, makes the vans dangerously prone to violent roll-over accidents.
"If I had a child that was riding in one of these vehicles, I would be praying and scared to death every day the child was in that vehicle," said Joan Claybrook, former chair of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Claybrook has lobbied against the use of these vehicles for decades, beginning with her time as head of the safety agency during the Carter administration.
Since 1982, 15 passenger vans have rolled over 740 times nationwide. Those accidents have resulted in 1,183 deaths.
In Wisconsin, van rollovers have killed seven people in the last decade.
A growing number of states have implemented outright bans on the use of these vehicles by child care providers.
But the I-Team discovered dozens of the vehicles are owned and in use by child care providers in the Milwaukee area.
They are used to shuttle children on field trips and for picking up kids at school for afternoon day care.
Wisconsin policy allows this, as long as day cares carry no more than 10 people in the vans at one time, including the driver.
Safety experts who have examined that policy say it does little to increase the vehicles' safety, but only ensures a roll-over accident will have fewer than 15 victims.
"It's a killer policy," said Claybrook. "If you use these vehicles to transport kids or adults, they are going to kill those passengers."
DCF declined repeated requests for an interview, but defended its policy in a statement.
"The department... does require day care providers to follow all laws," a spokesperson wrote.
But the statement also included an admission of the vehicles' inherent safety flaws.
The spokesperson wrote that DCF warns providers they may be faced with liability concerns if an accident occurs.
GuideOne, the nation's largest insurer of churches and religious organizations published a guide for 15 passenger van use that called the vehicles "inherently unsafe."
Other insurance companies refuse to cover the vehicles.
Still, day cares in Wisconsin continue to use them because the state has not forced them to stop.
For example, the Wee B Kids child care center in Brookfield uses a blue Chevrolet van to pick up kids after school.
Wee B Kids management declined an interview, but issued a statement saying it follows all state laws.
An indication, Claybrook said, parents need to do what the state will not.
"They should go to the school and say we don't want our kids riding in these vehicles," she said.
Because until parents give day cares an incentive to stop putting their children at risk, providers have no incentive to take these vans off the road.