Camps have traditionally used a variety of types of vehicles to transport campers, staff, and gear — cars, light trucks, passenger vans, 12- and 15-passenger vans, buses, and motor coaches. Are there any vehicle types that camps now are banned from utilizing? If yes, what vehicles and in what situations?
That is an excellent question. Unfortunately, there is no real clear answer. First we would need to identify “who” you are referring to when you ask if certain types of vehicles would be banned: the federal government, the state government, local authority, the camp’s insurance company or risk management group, or the ACA accreditation standards?
For example, the federal government does not prohibit a resident summer camp from using a 15-passenger van, but certain states may have state regulations that do, depending on the use of the vehicle. But then, in states where there may be no federal or state regulations prohibiting that use, you may have a camp with an insurance company or a risk management group that won’t allow it. Or you may be OK with all of the above, but then find that you cannot get a state health inspection sticker (in states that require it) because the vehicle you want to use is not properly equipped with a fire extinguisher, flares, backup alarm, etc. When camp directors get together and compare notes from across fifty states, it’s easy to see where information becomes jumbled on exactly what is legal and what is not. Here is what I can tell you:
The federal government does not currently have any general bans for camps on vehicle types such as factory-produced cars, minivans, buses, passenger vans, trucks, etc. However, there is a mandate on schools. Federal law prohibits the sale of large passen¬ger vans to schools for the purpose of transporting students. Large vans, those which hold ten or more passen¬gers, do not meet federal standards for school transportation. Specifically, federal law prohibits the sale of large passenger vans to a school for the purpose of transporting students if the vans do not meet federal standards for school bus manufacture. But this does not mean large vans are unsafe, nor does it mean their use is prohibited for transporting children in other indus¬tries (be aware that camps and schools are often confused and are not the same thing under the federal definition of “school”).
And to be clear, there are many types of cars and trucks that are banned from being used in many areas for any purpose, including camps — but these types of restrictions have more to do with the condition of the vehicle or it’s registration than it does with its “type.”
State government is where things start getting a bit trickier. We often have conflicting laws between federal and state governments — and camp vehicles are no exception. Some states will prohibit certain types of vehicles for certain uses. Sometimes the rules conflict with other legislation and create “gray areas” of interpretation. It’s probably one of the biggest reasons you cannot find a chart or publication that would bullet point what vehicles can be used in what states. In the private sector, depending on who you talk to, you are likely to get different answers on what’s legal and what’s not.
It will take some investigation on the camp director’s part — but it’s import to dig it out and understand what is required and what is not. Many times, much of what gets misconstrued is what the insurance industry says they will cover and what they will not. Coupled with the negative media surrounding 12- and 15-passenger vans, it’s easy to see why there is so much confusion. Ask for the facts — beware of recommendations or self-imposed limitations of your insurance providers being presented as legal benchmarks or legislation. You need to also look around you on the local level — will there be any compliance issues in your county or township?
Are camps considered “commercial ventures” that must comply with commercial venture regula¬tions related to transportation? If so, what are the situations and implications?
Again, this is a question that camp owners have to look at in the states and jurisdictions they will be operating in. The answer also depends on how camps are operating their business. If you are conducting a “tour” and charging people for a ride (canoeing and rafting return trips qualify here if that is your primary business), you fall under many livery and commercial driver’s license (CDL) laws. Your vehicle and drivers will have to have special licenses and display department of transportation and CDL requirements. However, if you are a camp or adventure group, again, depending on jurisdiction, you may not always qualify under livery rules, as transportation is secondary to your overall camp experience. Travelling to a rock climbing outing, zip line adventure, or (using the previous example) a rafting or canoeing outing for a day as part of your session, would be exempt from being considered a commercial livery application in many locales. If in doubt, camps should always plan ahead and find out how their business will be viewed by the local authorities before they begin operation. The time to find out is not after your van full of kids has been pulled over by the local sheriff or after you have rented a number of vehicles only to find you cannot get an inspection, pass compliance with the vehicles, or gain insurance.
I want to caution camp directors: Don’t count on every rental and leasing agency out there to know all the specifics surrounding your intended use of equipment. While it may not be illegal to rent a 15-passenger van, what you intend to do with it may or may not be subject to further rules outside of the agreed terms of your rental or lease. We all know that if you get caught speeding on an unfamiliar highway in a rented vehicle where maybe you didn’t know the speed limit, it’s still a violation. You are not exempt just because you rented the vehicle, nor is it the rental company’s responsibility for your error in judgment on speeding. The same is true for all levels of legislation and regulation. Just because you “didn’t know” is not a good defense or operational practice. An example of thinking ahead along these lines might be a resident camp in the east that sends excursions out west. That camp director will want to check with authorities wherever his excursions will travel to see if they will face special regulations depending on the nature of their trip and type of travel they will be doing.
Here’s an equally important question: Do your drivers understand how to operate the vehicle in accordance with the policies and procedures you have established? All too often I see inexperienced and undirected, uneducated drivers get into trouble because they didn’t know what lane to use at the airport pickup drop off areas (e.g., being ticketed for using a livery lane or commuter lane without proper license) or what kind of trip permit they needed at state lines, permit stations, or national parks. Trips to Canada require even more diligence — so plan ahead to train and instruct your drivers.
What, if any, tests are required for the drivers of camp vehicles?
If your camp or use application does require a CDL-licensed driver, this can be obtained by contacting the local DMV in your camp’s state (or driver’s home state). eHow’s “How to Get Your CDL Driver’s License” page has a good checklist for getting prepared for your license. (See the resource section at the bottom of this page.) Camps will want to check with their insurance provider, as this may change the type of policy they will need to carry.
What, if any, training is required for drivers of camp vehicles?
Unless a CDL is required, there is no official training required by the federal government. Camps should check with their state and local authorities to see if any is needed for their area. In states where health inspections are conducted, find out if the drivers must know CPR or have any other health/rescue training.
A lot of camps use young drivers. In many cases, these drivers are twenty-one years old (and some are even younger). Driving vehicles that these young drivers probably have not had a lot of experience with — especially including the distractions of a load of children — can create new challenges and unfamiliar environments . . . even for the best of drivers. I recommend that anyone operating a camp vehicle be given some instruction and training. There are any number of safety and training programs out there — check with your local DMV for any programs in your area. (Some additional resources can be found in the sidebar at the bottom of this page.)
What, if any, maintenance checks are required for camp vehicles?
ACA has accreditation standards that camps must use a vendor who can supply maintenance records on the vehicles they rent/lease, and camps must have the same for vehicles they own. But camp directors need to be aware that while daily rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise have periodic schedules allotted for their vehicles, these vehicles are rarely serviced beyond fuel, washer fluid, and a car wash between rentals. It’s common practice around peak periods of high demand for vehicle rental companies to override a maintenance hold on a vehicle when they reach maximum capacity. So ask yourself, “How did the last person treat this vehicle before I received it, took it to camp, and loaded kids into it?” Many times, it’s the next user who has to find out when a vehicle was abused and report it to the company. Do you want to take that chance with kids in the vehicle?
When selecting a company, try to pick one that will do more than just a physical walk around of the vehicle. Ask for a complete maintenance inspection. In many cases, camps have vehicles for eight weeks or more and will put a lot of miles on them. Start off with fresh knowledge of each vehicle’s condition. For example, my company supplies brand-new vehicles to a majority of customers, and we rarely keep vehicles over two model years old. In cases where an existing vehicle has been used prior to a camp, we conduct a complete service inspection, fresh oil change, and fluid service on the vehicle (regardless of when the last service was done, even if it was only done a few hundred miles prior). I recommend you ask for the same service!
Can camp staff who are foreign nationals with an international driver’s license drive camp vehicles?
This again will depend on each situation and the state the camp is in. The camp will need to know if the potential driver is a short-term visitor; here on a J-1, student, or work visa; or if residency rules will be applied to the person in that state depending on length of stay. The international staff placement agency you work with can help you with this. Then, contact your local DMV to find out what the requirements will be for using an international driver for your camp (or on an adventure trip that crosses state lines). A good resource for finding your local DMV is listed in the resources section at the bottom of this page. And then you’ll want to find out if the vehicle vendor you use will allow it. Not all do. At the very least, before your international staff comes to the U.S., they should obtain an international drivers permit, which translates the informa¬tion contained on their official driver’s license into ten languages.
If a camp was considering hiring a firm to handle the camp’s transportation needs, what questions should they ask the potential vendor?
If you are considering a buying club or discount broker, be careful and make sure you are not compromising safety in the interest of price. Make sure the price club is taking into consideration the value of things like full service and safety inspections or twenty-four-hour roadside assistance. A couple questions you should ask of the buying club are:
- When you shop rental/lease companies, what questions are you including in your quote?
- Who are you gathering bids from? (Make sure they are gathering bids from competitive businesses offering similar services so that the price differences are accurate.)
The best thing to do is get references from other camps that have used the buying club and find out about their experiences regarding transportation. Also, there are groups of camps out there that have formed their own clubs to pool their buying power without having to pay a broker or buying club to get the best prices. They often will have Web sites that show their partnered vendors, which might be a good way to see who others in your local area are using. You can do an Internet search for camp associations in your state or region, and then look for their business member/partner listings.
What advice do you give to camps to help them understand and comply with the appropriate regulations?
The best defense is a great offense! Don’t wait until you are in trouble to try to figure out what rules apply to you and your business. It’s your business! Act sooner rather than later, and spend whatever resources are necessary to get the correct understanding of what regulations you need to be in compliance with and how to conduct your business accordingly. It can be daunting for sure — and countless people, departments, and government offices all seemingly with conflicting answers will impede you along the way.
But if you are proactive and do your research in advance, you’ll have much more confidence that what you’re doing is correct. You’ll be better prepared for an encounter with an unfriendly inspector or law enforcement officer. As I’ve just demonstrated in all that we have talked about, matter of interpretation can vary greatly. If you find yourself in a bad situation on compliance and don’t really know the answer, the worst time to deal with it is in the middle of a camp session!
What changes in regulations do you see on the horizon?
There has been much activity on this very topic. There is federal legislation pending with the current highway bill in Congress now, which has failed to pass this provision in the Senate repeatedly. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act of 2012 that was passed has the provision of section 32709. This provision is for a study to be conducted regarding the feasibility of making nonschool and nondirect compensation operators (camps and other private sector operators) comply with CDL and other federal mandates. For more information and updates on this, visit ACA’s Federal Motor Coach Laws page (listed in the resources section below).
Is there anything else you would like to share with the camp community about transportation issues?
For now, 12- and 15-passenger vans are not subject to federal mandates outside of preprimary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as those companies operating interstate commerce or direct compensation for hire (taxi and limo companies). That means it is not federally illegal to lease vans to camps.
This site includes a free video and safety test. If you want to use the free test, make sure to print it and make your own answer key. Submitting the test online does not return results to you.
Operating a commercial rental and leasing division for Kline Corporation since 2006, Doug Brockman has over thirty-one years in the national automotive rental and leasing industry. Kline serves customers in more than thirty-six states from coast to coast and has the ability to serve anywhere in the forty-eight mainland states. Kline is an ACA Business Affiliate and sponsor. Visit www.klinevan.com.
Photo courtesy of Camp Max Straus, Los Angeles, California.
Orignally published in the Winter 2014 CampLine.