Article By – Joe Autera – Larry Side – and Tony Scotti – Below is an article that appeared in the New York Times, it is about the danger of 15 passenger vans. Many years back we conducted training for a government agency that used 15 passenger vans as escort vehicles. They escorted 18 Wheel armored trucks. (A future article) The equipment they carried in the vans made them top heavy – a lot of weight above the Center of Gravity of the van. The Escort Vans had very low handling numbers (.58 G’s), when coupled with drivers who were aggressive, it made the training interesting.
The training required the drivers to push the vans to their limits, and to drive into scenarios that would offer them little time to react. At times the Vans were not only lifting, they were jumping off the ground. The goal of the program was to train drivers to recognize the problem and bring the vehicle back under control in a very short period of time. As the NY Times article points out, loaded 15 passenger vans handle differently than other vehicles, and the issue is, that they do this at LOW SPEEDS.
The other inherent problem with vans, as with most SUV’s is that they tend to lift versus slide. This characteristic is also prominent in armored SUV’s. So it is not simply a matter of driving slowly – as the driver applies input to these types of vehicles they need to be trained to understand the vehicles response to their input (feedback). And from that feedback instantly apply the correct input needed to bring the vehicle under control. This is the same scenario VDI faces when conducting training in their armored suburban’s, and/or SUV’s.
For every exercise and or scenario, the instructors must know the combination of speed and steering that pushes the vehicle into the nonlinear portion of the handling curve. That is what we did years back with this group. We trained their instructors to compute when the vehicles were going “nonlinear”. They, in turn, trained the students to recognize the problem via the vehicles feedback and coach them to solve the problem. The end result was that they drove a significant number of miles (hundreds of thousands) in all types of environment without problems.