Cargo van myth busters


By Bob Raybuck
Director of Technical Services
NTEA 

Published Sept. 13, 2018

Cargo vans are a staple for many commercial vehicle fleets, including the telecom, parcel delivery and service industries (such as plumbing, HVAC and catering). Today’s cargo van has evolved, with many OEMs offering a variety of roof heights, lengths and towing capacities. This translates into increased flexibility in terms of functions these vans can perform. For example, getting inside your vehicle to work or gather parts is an easier task in a high-roof van, and larger cargo capacity vans are used for more than just carrying parts and tools. Some fleets are using vans as mobile workshops, or combining functions to include transportation of personnel and cargo — transforming them into do-everything work trucks. Due to the progression of cargo vans, best practices have adapted; this commentary identifies common myths and current requirements.

Van design evolution has triggered advancement in vehicle safety regulations and vice versa. Challenging safety standards apply to most vehicles with a 10,000-pound or less gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) — the vast majority of cargo vans. Safety standards (such as interior or side impact, roof crush and ejection mitigation) make compliant cargo van modification an exercise in planning, engineering and design.

Ejection mitigation and side impact requirements have resulted in incorporation of side curtain and driver/passenger seat air bags (located in the outboard sides of the seats). Previously, fleets added covers on top of chassis manufacturer-provided seats for improved durability. Now, with seat air bags coming out of the sides, the chassis manufacturer seating material is designed to rip open, allowing the air bag to deploy and protect the occupant in a side crash. If an aftermarket seat cover may not be designed to meet OEM specifications that allow the air bag to properly deploy through the side of the seat, vehicle occupant safety could be compromised. Before adding a seat cover, ask your supplier/manufacturer if it has been tested in combination with the specific OEM seat to confirm proper air bag deployment compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 214 requirements.

In addition, side curtain air bags that deploy from the roof are used for side impact protection (FMVSS 214) and ejection mitigation (FMVSS 226). These air bags are typically configured for cargo vans and only cover the front driver and passenger seat locations. Side curtain air bags in passenger vans will typically cover the entire glass area and rear seating positions. For this reason, location and installation of a partition need to be carefully positioned to avoid interference with deployment of side curtain air bags while still meeting FMVSS 201 interior impact dimensional requirements. Though partition installation seems to simply require fastening to the cargo van interior, there are specific positioning and attachment locations to help the completed cargo van meet and maintain interior safety compliance (including potential effects to roof crush, interior impact and ejection mitigation). Improper partition installation could jeopardize the function of interior safety systems used to protect occupants.

Many companies are interested in the flexibility modern cargo vans provide in transporting both cargo and people, electing to add seats behind the front row. Adding seats to a cargo van requires planning and engineering to accommodate the extra safety standards applicable to carrying passengers. All passenger seats in a vehicle are subject to safety standards which apply to seat belts, seat belt anchorages, seating systems (the seat itself and how it is attached to the vehicle), and flammability resistance of the seat materials. Seat structures/belts are subject to FMVSS 207/210 pull tests which require certain attachment systems designed to interact with a specific OEM’s van floor design. Any modifier or seating system supplier should have specific instructions about seat and seat belt attachment points and the method used to affix the seat to the vehicle floor — all based on testing of the specific cargo van model.

If side windows are added to a cargo van (usually only at driver and passenger locations), care must be taken to ensure the extra windows meet FMVSS 226 ejection mitigation requirements. Passenger vans typically use side curtain air bags to meet these requirements, which cover most of the side interior. Any cargo management systems that attach to walls in the rear of a cargo van, such as shelving systems, can interfere with side curtain air bag deployment. It’s important to understand and follow the OEM-recommended attachment scheme in order to preserve side curtain air bag performance.

Specialized glass that meets ejection mitigation requirements needs to be used if a cargo van is modified by installing additional side glass with new seating systems. The glass must meet pre-breaking and ejection mitigation testing requirements. Typically, a total systems approach must be used when adding seats and side windows to a cargo van to assure it meets all safety standard requirements after modification.

When fleets, end users, or truck dealers plan to purchase and modify a cargo van for their particular needs, it’s important to plan for full usage before the specific cargo van and options have been selected. If additional seats are desired, the fleet or buyer must ask how they’ll be integrated and all associated safety standards will be met. This may require purchase of additional options not formerly ordered. As mentioned, many modifications typically performed in previous years have now become more complex due to new safety standards and system options. Asking certain questions about how a modified cargo van aligns with safety standards will help you determine which component systems and installation partners can deliver compliant vehicles for your employees to operate and perform their tasks. Today’s cargo vans translate into a wide variety of usage options, but careful planning is required to ensure correct modification.

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