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 September 16, 2003
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Exclusive Investigation
Investigation into the use of dangerous vans to transport children
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Public schools are prohibited from using 15-passenger vans to take students to and from school, but our investigation found a quirk in the law.
Child care facilites ARE ALLOWED to use the vans to transport youngsters to and from schools across the state every day. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has prohibited the sale of the vans to public schools nationwide. The reason - the vans are so prone to rollovers they are considered too dangerous to carry children. This scene is played out all over Rhode Island, day in and day out- elementary school students loaded into 15-passenger vans for the trip to and from child care facilities to the schools. It�s legal, but it doesn�t make sense.
The state expert on school bus and student transportation safety says if he had his way the 15-passenger vans could not be used by day care facilities to transport children.
�It�s unfortunate. It�s an unfortunate situation. There are laws out there that really don�t provide for the maxim level - of safety.�
Rhode Island has not had any accidents involving child care van rollovers, but itďż˝s a different story nationally. Since 1990, 424 people have been killed and hundreds seriuosly injured in 15-passenger van rollovers. Safety experts say the extended back-end causes the van to fishtale and that the vehicles are top heavy.  There are worries that it might take a terrible accident here before there is enough concern to demand change.
Our Eyewitness News investigation found a number of the vans used to transport youngsters to and from school are not properly registered, not properly inspected, and do not have the required identification markings.  Also some drivers do not have the proper license. The vans are supposed to have these ďż˝public plates,ďż˝ not private passenger plates. Theyďż˝re supposed to have a more stringent inspection, not a regular inspection, and theyďż˝re supposed to have company markings, not be unmarked vehicles.
When we told the operator of the North Kingstown Day Care and Preschool facility that her vans were improperly registered, she called the police on us.  She told the police she was afraid weďż˝d hurt her business and that she was ďż˝unawareďż˝ the vans had to be ďż˝registered with public plates.ďż˝
The operator of another child care center agreed to discuss why two of her vans were properly registered and inspected, but the third was not. She said she learned this summer from another facility operator about the regulations.
�We are in the process of getting it converted. It�s a lengthy process to convert the plates the way they need to be. � And, she was surprised when we told her that her drivers were required to have chauffeur�s license.
�That would be one more regulation that I was not aware of..�.
Our investigation did find one positive. The athletic director at Rhode Island College discussed the safety problem with staff this past summer and removed the back seat from the school�s three, 15-passenger vans.
�The other thing we�ve done is when it is night or bad weather, we�ve gone to coach buses. But it has had a profound effect on - the budget."
Tough on the budget, but Don Tencher feels he�s done the right thing for the safety of his student athletes.
There is no effort underway to change the law that allows child care facilities to use the vans.  Several legislators said they will look into the situation during the next general assembly session and might consider changing the law.
Jack White, Eyewitness News.

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