Big Ol’ Vans

The vehicle I normally drive while on duty, a 2005 Chevy 15 passenger short bus, is gone to Florida with another cottage because theirs is broke down in the shop. While it is gone, I am forced to drive an old 91 Dodge 15 passenger van with the rear seat removed to make it 11 passenger.  I can honestly say that the two drive very differently and I started thinking about the vehicles that we drive as houseparents.

One of the things that has always humored me is how much new houseparents hate driving houseparent vehicles, especially housemoms.  I have seen houseparents pile kids into their personal vehicles to avoid driving the vans.  I even know of one set of houseparents that finally had to quit being houseparents because neither wanted to drive the vans, and one absolutely refused.  I do have to hand it to my wife though.  She was “skeered reel bad” the first few times she drove, but she kept driving and now drives a short bus as well as she does our mini-van. 

Here are some thoughts about the vehicles that houseparents and other residential staff usually drive:

Though some places have started using mini-vans (my wife worked for a facility that had two 8-passenger mini-vans. When regular staff was on duty they had to go everywhere in two vehicles.  There were 7 kids and 2 houseparents) most still use full size vans, either 12 or 15 passenger.  Some insurance companies have stopped insuring 15 passenger vans so many facilities are removing the rear seat and making 11 passenger vans, like ours.  We also have two 15-passenger short buses, which are larger than a 15 passenger van, yet they are supposed to be safer and less roll over prone than the 15 passenger vans.

The average length of a full size van is about 18-20 feet long compared to a minivan that is about 15.  They are also at least a foot wider than a minivan, and are much taller (there are few ATMs you can use without getting out).  They have to be driven differently.

You will need to take right turns wider than with a regular car.  We have one turn near the home that drops off about 2 feet into a ditch.  I have skeered my wife real bad a few time when I have had to cut it close.  Your rear end will not track in the same line as the front tires, they will track about a foot or two inside the front tires depending on how sharp you turn.  It is more pronounced on right turns because you are turning much tighter than on left turns, that explains all the times I have and you will hit the curb.

You also have many blind spots with a large van.  There is a huge one between the front and rear doors on the passenger side. I have on several occasion come to an intersection that is angled to the street I am crossing and will lose sight of about 50 yards of road.  I have to lean far forward to see in the blind spot.  You also have huge blind spots on the sides of the van.  We use small fish-eye mirrors on both sides to help see in the blind spots when changing lanes. 

You also don’t have the acceleration that you would have with a regular car, especially when you are loaded with kids, so you need to have extra space when crossing lanes of traffic or making turns.

I have also discovered that vans are very susceptible to strong cross winds as well as the turbulent air coming off of large trucks when they pass you or you pass them.  There have been times I have been driving along and it feels like that vans moves suddenly to the side about three feet.  That is a shocker when you are not expecting it.  It’s also really weird when you get behind a semi-truck and it feels like you have about a foot of play in your steering wheel.  At those times I will always have two hands on the wheel.

Parking is another issue.  Most parking spaces were not intended for a 20 foot long 9 foot wide (with Mirrors) vehicle.  With my bus it is even worse because it is about 24 feet long and over 10 feet wide with mirrors.  The best advice I can give here is be prepared to walk.  Although I have seen many a houseparent pull into a space I wouldn’t park my mini-van in (I’m not a fan of door dings), I usually park at the ends of the row far away from the store or building I am stopping at so I can take up two spaces or be where somebody probably wont park next to me.  I would rather walk an extra 50 feet than have to explain to somebody why their car is hooked to my bumper.

Allow extra time and space for braking.  A fully loaded 15 passenger van can weigh over 8,000 pounds compared to about 4,500 pounds for a mini-van. 

I view driving and the safety of the children I transport as a huge responsibility that takes a great deal of concentration.  I don’t even want to imagine the grief I would have if somebody was hurt because of my carelessness of lack of paying attention.  I don’t allow horsing around in the van, hollering, yelling, etc. and always make sure everyone wears a seat belt properly (Not easy with the teenagers).  When they ask why I explain that driving a large vehicle is difficult and if I am having to pay attention to them messing around in the back, I am not able to pay attention to all the other things going on around me.  The kids know I will stop and sit on the side of the road for however long it takes to get things back in order, that is how serious I am about their safety.

I hope somebody finds this helpful and if you have more to add feel free to do so.  You don’t have to be skeered to drive a van just careful. 

(For those of you that are wondering – “skeered” is a funny country way of saying “scared”, I use it to try and interject humor into my writing)

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