Unease Over Safety of Safety Shuttle

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Unease Over Safety of Safety Shuttle

Drew Kaplan ’20, Editor-In-Chief

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Students have raised concerns regarding the safety of the safety shuttle, both in the physical condition of the vehicle, and the drivers who operate it. However, Chief of Public Safety Dee Danser denied the allegations, stating in an email that while the designated van for the safety shuttle is old, it meets all necessary safety standards.

A driver who will remain anonymous due to possible retaliation explained that, on several occasions, she has reported to DPS about various safety issues regarding the van, namely non-functioning taillights, damaged side mirrors and loose pieces on the underside of the van. “It’s an old van,” the driver noted, “Its approaching 150,000 miles and has the problems to match that.”

The driver relayed an incident where, after informing DPS that one of the taillights on the van was damaged, DPS declined to fix the issue immediately. That same night, while on route, the driver was pulled over by a Carlisle Police Department (CPD) officer over the broken taillight. 

During a recent shuttle route, the van was observed leaning significantly to one side when turning, and swaying back and forth as the van rebounded after the turn finished. The dashboard gear selection light was also observed to be burnt out, and the casing over the front passenger airbag was not mounted flush with the rest of the dash. “Everything is falling apart. The airbag casing is coming away from the dashboard, so I’m worried about the airbag not deploying correctly if it deploys in a crash” the driver added. The driver also noted that the side mirrors on the van are damaged, and that DPS has declined to have the mirrors replaced. The van was also observed to audibly vibrate above 30 miles per hour. The driver explained that this is due to a loose fitting in the chassis which DPS declined to repair because the loose part “does not obstruct wheel motion.”

The driver also explained that there are several burnt out bulbs on the dashboard, namely those which previously illuminated the gear selector, which causes difficulty after dark in determining which gear the vehicle is in other than by counting the notches on the shifter from park. “The transmission used to skip gears, but I think they fixed that. It will sometimes click twice between gears though,” which the driver noted causes issues as she relies on counting the clicks to determine the position of the transmission without the selector, due to the burnt out bulb.

The driver also said that “the brakes are elastic,” explaining that “initially, you press down and its fine, but then you hit the air pocket.” The driver explained that she has had “stress dreams about hitting the brakes in this van, and them taking so long to react that I end up in the middle of an intersection and get t-boned. That is a dream I’ve had multiple times.” 

Rogelio Cuevas ’20, another driver, explained that he has also noticed issues with the van. “The big thing was that passenger airbag falling out,” Cuevas noted. He explained his belief that, because DPS regularly operates the vehicle, that they are aware of the issues with the van. “I assume they know the nature of their vehicles, given that they have been like this for a while.”

“[The van] makes a lot of noise, and that airbag is popping out” said Kaela Nelson ’22, a shuttle passenger. 

Danser explained that van four, a pre-2008 Ford Econoline, “is safe and is maintained and services on the same schedule as all college vehicles.” She explained that the vehicle passed its state vehicle inspection in September, and that she has not observed any issues with the brakes, transmission, or “other safety or operation systems.” Danser did note that what students described as a loose airbag is a “decorative panel which covers the front passenger side airbag mechanism,” and that while the panel is indeed loose, “mechanics have inspected this and determined it is decorative only and will not impact the function of the airbag in the event of a crash.”

Danser furthered that, due to vehicle reservations, van four cannot be easily swapped out for another vehicle, so it is only when the van is determined to be “inoperable on a specific night” that another vehicle is substituted. “While this is an older van which does not have some of the amenities of the newer vans, no one has been or will be asked to drive a vehicle which is unsafe.” Danser did not respond to a request for the maintenance records of the shuttle van before print time. 

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