The summer camping season is upon us! Welcoming user groups, families, and campers to join you for a one-of-a-kind experience of fun, camaraderie, and personal growth takes considerable preparation to ensure their health and safety. Among all the safety considerations for your program, don’t forget about transportation safety to make sure your summer keeps rolling smoothly along.

If your camp program requires any degree of travel, either within your property or to off-site activities, it’s important to have policies in place that ensure your drivers and vehicles hit the road safely.

Safe Drivers

If staff or volunteers drive your vehicles, a written policy is essential to manage your driving program. Whether your drivers are transporting campers or equipment and supplies, they need to know your expectations. 

Keep these best practices in mind for establishing a safe driver program at your camp:

  1. Designate someone as your driving program supervisor who can help drivers with any concerns. This person also would be involved in the driver selection/screening process and have the authority to terminate a staff member’s driving privileges with your camp.
  2. Ensure every driver is properly licensed to operate the given vehicle. In addition to the components of American Camp Association Standard ST.19, also consider providing driver training to include distracted and defensive driving and identifying/avoiding road hazards. If your camp roads have any particularly challenging curves or hills, make sure your drivers are aware of those areas. 
  3. Point out to your drivers where not to drive a vehicle in camp. Taking a vehicle off the designated driving surfaces may seem more convenient in certain situations but comes with the risk of getting stuck, striking trees or rocks, or even rolling the vehicle.
  4. Establish expectations for drivers. This holds your staff accountable for safe driving while also providing guidelines for passengers. Set protocols for loading/unloading cargo or passengers and ensuring passengers are seated and secured before driving. You may also want to consider telematics devices — cameras and other resources — to help keep drivers and passengers safe while protecting your organization.
  5. Establish and adhere to a policy that prohibits the use of cell phones while driving your vehicles.

You should obtain a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) for every person who drives on behalf of your program. For a small fee, you can request these from your state’s department of transportation. It is recommended to prohibit drivers who have had the following violations in the last five years:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Driving with an open container of alcohol
  • Reckless/careless driving
  • Speeding in excess of 14 mph over the speed limit
  • Hit and run
  • Eluding a police officer
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license
  • Vehicular assault, manslaughter, or homicide
  • Operating a vehicle without the owner’s permission
  • Speed contest/racing
  • Use of a vehicle to commit a felony
  • Passing a stopped school bus

It is also a good idea to prohibit an individual from driving if they have had two or more of the following violations in the last three years:

  • All other speeding violations
  • Distracted driving
  • Improper lane changes
  • Failure to yield
  • At-fault accidents
  • Tailgating
  • Running a stop sign or red light

Vehicle Maintenance and Inspection

You don’t want the fun to come to a screeching halt due to a vehicle breakdown or crash that could have been prevented. You should perform a preseason inspection on all your vehicles to help you identify and fix any safety or maintenance issues. Also, look over a vehicle before taking it on any road trip during the season. Pay special attention to the following areas:

  1. Tires. Make sure the tires are correctly inflated and have the proper tread. If the tires are worn or more than five years old, consider replacing them. Have the tires rotated at the intervals specified for your vehicle, typically every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.
  2. Fluids. These include the engine oil, coolant, windshield wiper fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid.
  3. Air filter. In general, you should change it every 10,000 to 15,000 miles.
  4. Belts, hoses, and lighting. Check to make sure the vehicle’s serpentine belt is not frayed or damaged. Ensure hoses are connected and in good shape. You should also check the bulbs in the headlights, taillights, brake lights, emergency flashers, dashboard, and interior lights.
  5. Battery. Most car batteries last three to five years. If your vehicle’s battery is more than two years old, you may want to have a technician test its energy capacity.

Special Precautions for 15-Passenger Vans

A traditional staple of the camp vehicle fleet, the 15-passenger van, can carry a lot of people and cargo but comes with inherent safety concerns. These vehicles are involved in rollover crashes more often than any other type of vehicle. Over the years, camps have adjusted their fleets to include safer alternatives such as minivans or minibuses. If your program uses a 15-passenger van, the following safety tips are strongly recommended:

  • Keep speeds under 60 mph regardless of the speed limit.
  • Do not purchase or rent 15-passenger vans manufactured before 2004, as older vehicles likely do not have crash-prevention technology, antilock brakes, or automatic tire pressure monitoring systems.
  • Keep tires properly inflated and replace them frequently. Many 15-passenger van rollovers occur because of a tire blowout.
  • Make sure drivers receive training on the unique handling characteristics of 15-passenger vans.

Don’t forget, it’s always a good idea to check with your camp’s insurance company to make sure you have all the appropriate coverages for your transportation needs.

Eric Spacek is the assistant vice president — risk control for Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.