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Developing a motor vehicle safety program.

Over the years, motor vehicle accidents have consistently been one of the major loss areas in camping programs both from a financial and a human resource standpoint. Two causes seem to be responsible for vehicle accidents at camp: ineffective or inadequate driver training, and poor vehicle maintenance.

The development and implementation of a motor vehicle safety program is scrutinized by groups concerned with camping safety, particularly insurance companies, state workers' compensation programs, health departments, and the American Camping Association (vehicle operation standards SB-17 to SB-22). In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently discussing driver safety training requirements for employers.

Driving a van is different from driving a passenger car due to its size, maneuverability and weight distribution. The weight load of a camp group often involves 10 to 12 campers, two or three counselors, backpacks (at 40 to 80 pounds each) on the roof rack, and possibly a trailer for hauling additional equipment. Expecting this van to handle the same as an unloaded van is wishful thinking.

It is not difficult to initiate a driver safety training program. Set up a practice course where counselors can gain experience parallel parking, backing up, turning sharp comers, and coming to an emergency stop in a van. Training topics should include use of seat belts, defensive driving, mountain driving, fog, black ice hazards, deer crossings, safe driving tactics for gravel roads, avoidance of animals/people/vehicles in the road, driving across streams, local intersections or roads that have a high number of accidents, and geographical areas to avoid. Teaching resources like local school bus drivers, sheriffs' deputies, and rescue squads can provide specifics for driving safety in your region. In addition, a police officer can be called on to reiterate the camp's policy on alcohol and drug use.

Safety programs are ongoing and require regular monitoring. Does the camp director tell counselors to slow down in camp? Supporting the training program with reinforcements is important.

An effective safety program will save the camp money in several ways. Reducing claims helps to keep insurance premiums down. A motor vehicle accident can result in expenses for medical deductibles, lawyers fees, and the hiring of replacements or redesigning of other staff roles in the program.

Two safety rules that every camp should follow without exception are the use of seat belts and the use of headlights at all times. National Safety Council statistics clearly show a correlation in the severity of injuries for people who wear seat belts and people who do not. Outward Bound has found that van headlights can serve to give other drivers, campers, or pedestrians additional visual warning. It costs no money to implement this policy, and the extra moments of visual contact it ensures may be enough to prevent some accidents.

A large number of accidents have occurred while the vehicle was in reverse. A staff person "spotting" the van as it backs up would probably have prevented most of these accidents. Establish a procedure where the staff "spotter" gets out of the van and physically goes around the van to inspect for hazards. The use of a fluorescent orange highway cone placed at the rear of the van whenever the vehicle is parked might work. Some utility companies have used this procedure for years. If the counselor doesn't return the cone to the storage area behind the rear seat before driving off, he or she would run into the cone when the van is backed up. A road cone might also serve as a warning signal to other drivers when the passengers are unloading.

Some camps may need to include other motorized vehicles in their safety training programs. Golf carts can move rapidly and inflict as much or even more damage than a car crash due to the lack of seat belts. A motorized wheel chair has a battery on the back that can cause serious acid bums on people if the chair tips over on uneven sidewalks or during "wheel chair races."

Records should be kept of the maintenance performed on camp vehicles prior to and during camp. Improper vehicle maintenance contributes to excessive wear and tear and endangers the lives of the passengers.

Professional resources such as police officers, paramedics, and bus drivers can offer valuable assistance in training the staff to respect the limitations of camp vehicles. Practice and refresher training courses can put this professional advice into perspective. Add in a maintenance program for the vehicles and your camp will have the basics for a motor vehicle safety program.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:camps
Author:Evans, Will
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:757
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