An American insurance company says the type of van used to carry prisoners in New Brunswick is similar to the controversial one involved in the Bathurst High School crash in 2008.

The Redwoods Group says the vans have a propensity for rollovers and has banned the use of them by 450 YMCAs across the United States.

Prisoner lawsuit

The use of 12-passenger vans like this one involved in an accident while transporting prisoners in 2012 has been banned for use by hundreds of YMCAs in the U.S. by their insurer.

Redwoods Group vice president Doug Page said the company banned use of both 15- and 12-passenger vans by the YMCAs it insures after a fatal Y accident in Virginina and a second in Florida.

"Those are two tragedies that didn't have to happen and two children lost their lives that didn't have to happen because of the design of the vans themselves," said Page.

"The centre of gravity is higher in those vehicles and that's what causes some of the issues," he said.

Only two of the YMCAs dropped the company as an insurer rather than give up the vans.

In 2012, three prisoners being transported in by New Brunswick Sheriff Services suffered serious injuries when the 12-passenger van they were in rolled over several times. Two sheriffs were also injured.

Former Sheriff Services officer Natalie Doucet says the van swerved at least twice before the driver completely lost control in a snowstorm near Jacquet River.

RCMP blamed the accident on road conditions and no charges were laid.

Sheriff Services uses 12-passenger vans for prisoner transport. The 12-passenger unites have a shorter wheel-base than their controversial 15-passenger cousins, but they are regarded by the Redwoods Group – and by others – as having the same problems.

In 2008, the Bathurst High School basketball team was returning home in the school's 15-passenger van when it was involved in an accident involving a truck in stormy conditions. Seven players and the coach's wife were killed.

Following the Bathurst accident, the provincial government banned the use of 15-passenger vans for transporting students.

Transport Canada motor vehicle safety recommendations for loading a van recommened that if the fewer than the maximum of 12 or 15 people, they should be seated in the front and middle of the van. 

"Fill the front and middle seats before the rear seats," the recommendations read. "This will keep the weight toward the front, and help handling."

In the vans Sheriff Services uses for prisoner transport, the prisoners are held in a compartment at the rear of the vehicle.