Risk Management: An Open Letter to Counselors about Thinking

Risk Management

by Ed Schirick


This letter is addressed to all camp counselors whether you have responsibility
for driving camp vehicles, have your own car at camp, borrow a car, or
are just a passenger in a camp or other vehicle this summer. Please think
safety and drive safely.

Unlike most articles you may have seen on this subject, we won't be
quoting statistics from organizations like the National Highway Transportation
Safety Association, the insurance industry, or Mothers Against Drunk
Drivers - just some plain, hard facts from the perspective and experience
of an insurance underwriter and risk manager with over twenty-five years
of experience in camping.

Here are the plain, hard facts. Auto, van, and bus accidents, which
result in injury to people and damage to property, are caused by one
or more of the following:

  • unsafe conditions
  • unsafe actions
  • unsafe equipment, and/or
  • poor judgment

Every summer one or more counselors, or campers, are seriously injured
or die as the result of an automobile accident. Many of the severe injuries
can be reduced or avoided, and some of the accidents prevented entirely
if drivers and passengers think safety and drive safely. Here are some
thoughts to live by this summer!

Unsafe Conditions

Unsafe conditions occur when things change. Take the weather for example.
Bright sun, fog, rain, haze, and other weather factors change the conditions
in which you are driving. As the conditions change so does the risk.
Keep this in mind, slow down, and make sure you bring your sunglasses
on those bright summer days.

Other unsafe conditions include road debris and construction along the
highways and rural roads. Tailgating, an unsafe action, combined with
unsafe road conditions can result in a disastrous situation. Even though
you have confidence in your driving ability - remember you are not out
on the roads by yourself. Someone else's unsafe action combined with
an unsafe condition, or unsafe equipment, could create the right circumstances
for an accident and injury. You can control and reduce some of the risks
of driving this summer. Take the time to consider how you can make a
difference on the highways this summer.

Unsafe Actions

Another contributing factor is unsafe actions. An example of an unsafe
action is aggressive driving. This includes speeding, tailgating, and
weaving in and out of traffic. Inexperience often contributes to these
unsafe actions.

Driving on rural camp roads presents different risks. Realize rural
roads have soft, dirt shoulders - an unsafe condition. If you get your
tire off the road and onto the shoulder, the dirt can "grab" your tire,
making a hasty move to pull the vehicle back onto the road is a potentially
fatal, unsafe action. If you get the wheels of your vehicle on the soft
shoulder, slow down, and gradually and slowly pull the vehicle back onto
the road. A more aggressive response might cause the vehicle to flip.
Besides, sport utility vehicles, vans, and pickups are also prone to
roll-over accidents in this situation.

Just because the speed limit is posted at a maximum of fifty-five miles
per hour, doesn't mean you have to travel at that speed - especially
at night. Another good reason to slow down on rural roads is the limited
vision typical of winding, rural roads. Hot weather can create unsafe
conditions making the suburban and rural roads slippery, especially after
these roads have been freshly oiled and chipped or resurfaced. A summer
shower can also make a rural road treacherous and slippery. Urban, suburban,
and rural roads may be subject to localized flooding. Rural roads are
often poorly marked and narrow. They tend to be designed with a "crown," which
helps aid drainage, but can cause your vehicle to handle very differently.
Driving too fast to handle these unsafe conditions is definitely an unsafe
action. Make sure you drive at appropriate speed for the road conditions.

Please take time to become familiar with the area around camp, the condition
of the roads, and how your vehicle handles on them when it is full and
when it is empty. Think safety and drive safely. If you have primary
camp vehicle driving responsibilities, expect to receive some training
along these lines during orientation. You may also be asked to take a
road test. Directors will want you to demonstrate your competency before
they allow you to operate camp vehicles with children on board.

Unsafe Equipment

Safe equipment can become unsafe as the seasons pass. ACA's Transportation
Standard, TR-16, requires a driver safety check of camp vehicles used
to transport people that includes checking lights, tires, windshield
and wipers, emergency flashers, horn, brakes, mirrors, and fluid levels.
This is important.

Any unsafe equipment should be promptly reported to the camp or transportation
director and fixed immediately. The vehicle shouldn't be used to transport
people until the unsafe equipment is repaired.

Consider making a safety check of your own vehicle, as well as other
vehicles you may use during the summer. Make sure to check tire pressure,
too. Tire manufacturers recommend doing this once a month.

Poor Judgment

Poor judgment seems to be connected to unsafe action. For example, impatience
contributes to aggressive driving and accidents. Sometimes the accidents
are minor and only involve damage to the vehicles. Sometimes impatience
can be deadly.

Have you ever experienced a driver who just won't let you merge into
traffic or is just creeping along? How do you respond? Does this behavior
make you angry? If you are stuck in traffic or being delayed by a slow
moving vehicle, try to relax. Think safety. Don't act out of anger. If
the camp director is expecting you at a certain time and you are going
to be late, find a safe place to pull over and call ahead to let the
director know you have been delayed.

Realize others on the road in these circumstances may be impatient and
behaving improperly. Don't let others' "road rage" influence your judgment.
Give them room and let them go by.

Make sure you have time to respond safely to improper behavior and unsafe
actions of others by not tailgating or speeding.

Another example of poor judgment involves overloading roof racks. Overloaded
roof racks can change the handling characteristics of the vehicle - make
it top heavy and damage the roof. Overloading the vehicle with passengers
is also poor judgment. If your car has room for five, don't try to pack
six or seven people into it. This also applies to camp vehicles, especially
vans. Everyone should have a seat and a seat belt. Don't transport campers
or staff in the back of an SUV, van, or pickup.

Wear your seat belt and make sure that all campers and counselors wear
their seat belts at all times while the vehicle is in motion. This applies
to camp vehicles and to your private vehicles, as well. Seat belts reduce
the severity of injuries in auto accidents and save lives. Wear your
seat belt in the back seat, too. Do this so you are not ejected from
the vehicle in an accident. Drivers and passengers who are ejected from
the vehicle have a high mortality rate.

This summer, promise not to drink and drive. Sometimes alcohol is a
contributing factor to counselor auto accidents, especially late at night.
If you are going to drink on your night off, have a designated driver.
Be smart. Use good judgment. Don't become a statistic. Consider the camp
community and the impact of a fatal auto accident on the directors, your
fellow counselors, and the campers, not to mention your family.

Recognizing fatigue is another judgment factor that contributes to auto
accidents at camp. Significant research has been done about sleep deprivation
at camp. It is definitely a factor as the summer progresses. Keep this
in mind and, if you are getting tired, stop and rest. Switch drivers
if the other person is authorized by the camp director to drive. Let
someone else drive if you are in your own car. Don't fall asleep behind
the wheel. Failing to recognize fatigue and reduce the risk of not being
alert can been a fatal mistake in judgement.

We know you get a lot of advice. Please, please listen to this advice
and take it to heart! Take the time to think safety and drive safely
this summer. You will be glad and so will all of the other people who
know, love, and depend on you. It is your choice. Make it a great summer!

Originally published in the 2002 May/June
issue of Camping