Childcare organizations offer a wide variety of programs for the education, growth, and health of children. Educational and recreational activities often involve transporting children on excursions and field trips. The condition of vehicles, along with the safe driving policies and procedures in place are of ultimate importance in assuring the safety of children and staff. It is recommended that a review of fleet standard practices be completed for the protection of precious cargo.
Formalized Fleet Program
A written fleet program should be in place that addresses the use of vehicles, qualification of drivers and driving procedures. Whether creating a new program, or enhancing an existing program, consider using Nationwide’s sample fleet program and drivers manual as a guide. In addition to safe driving policies, the manual should include specific child safety protocols such as:
- Safe installation and use of car seats and booster seats.
- Not leaving children unattended in or around the vehicle.
- Ensuring all children are out of the vehicle and accounted for.
- Safe drop-off and pickup locations.
- When an attendant/helper is required.
- First aid requirements and emergency plans.
- Hazards related to heatstroke, power windows, seat belt entanglement, etc. See the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Child Safety page for more information.
Driver Qualification and Driving Policies
NHTSA has found that drivers are the primary cause of 94% of accidents, with aggressive driving, distraction and poor judgement being some of the primary causes (1). Hiring qualified drivers and establishing safe driving requirements is essential.
- Drivers must possess the required license to operate the vehicle assigned.
- Drivers must have at least five years’ driving experience and at least two years’ experience driving the vehicle they will be assigned: large van, shuttle bus, etc.
- Drivers must maintain an acceptable motor vehicle record (MVR). An MVR should be run at hire and annually on all drivers. MVR guidelines should be in place.
- Drivers must immediately report to management any driving violations or license suspensions or revocations.
- Drivers must be physically and medically able to operate the vehicle, with or without reasonable accommodations.
- Organizations should contact their state department of transportation for regulatory guidance related to transporting passengers. These often entail additional qualifications for drivers of larger passenger capacity vans, shuttles and buses.
- Drivers should be trained in installation and proper use of car and booster seats, and wheelchair securement if applicable. Annual training thereafter.
- Organizations should have specific written rules and policies for drivers including prohibitions against aggressive driving, eating, drinking, cell phone use, leaving vehicle unattended while occupied, etc. See our sample driver manual for a list of rules.
- Distracted Driving: A “zero use” cell phone policy should be in place while the vehicle is in motion. If a driver must receive or make a phone call, they should safely pull off the road before using the phone. Texting, browsing the internet, interacting with social media and hands-free calls should be prohibited.
Employee-owned Vehicle Use
It is recommended that neither employees nor volunteers be allowed to transport children in their own vehicle except in the case of an emergency. Should an employee have to transport children in their own vehicle, a review should be made to ensure that they have a valid driver’s license and carry up-to-date automobile insurance with at least $100,000 in auto liability limits.
Vehicle Selection, Inspections and Maintenance
- When purchasing vehicles, an organization should examine their needs and select the safest vehicle available. Review our bulletin on selecting passenger transportation vehicles for more information.
- Vehicles should be physically checked by the driver before each use by conducting a pre-trip inspection using a documented form. Special emphasis should be placed on lights, turn signals, tire condition, windshield wipers, brakes and car seats. Defects should immediately be reported to management.
- Each vehicle should be on a set service and inspection schedule with work completed by a qualified mechanic. Service and maintenance records should be kept on each vehicle. Tires should be replaced when tread wear indicates or if there is evidence of dry rot.
Operation of the Vehicle
The vehicle should be operated in a manner consistent with reasonable practices to avoid abuse, theft and neglect of the unit. Seat belts and shoulder harnesses should be worn by the driver and all children in appropriate car or booster seats. Trip routes should be discussed and agreed on by the drivers before leaving your facility. Consideration should be given to weather conditions on the day of your trip, road conditions, and the time of day when driving. Efforts should be made to avoid driving at night.
Each state has specific regulations and standards regarding the use of child safety and booster seats when transporting smaller children. It is recommended that you contact your state authority for specific requirements. Helpful information can be obtained from these two websites: https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats and www.safekids.org/car-seat.
Drivers should receive training in defensive driving and other safe driving techniques when hired and periodically thereafter. It is recommended refresher training be provided on a scheduled basis. Driver training is available through private consultants or online at reasonable costs.
Nationwide has the following resources available at no cost:
Contracting with a Transportation Service Provider
Many childcare organizations hire a contractor to provide all or some of their passenger transportation. You should thoroughly screen contractors to ensure they are qualified. Most contractors are regulated by the DOT, and you can check their safety performance on the DOT’s SAFER website. The contractor should have a satisfactory safety rating and their Out-of-Service rates should be near or below the national average. You can also verify their insurance coverage on SAFER.
Organizations should require $5 million in auto and general liability insurance of the contractor and request that the organization be listed as an additional insured on the contractor’s policy. A certificate of insurance should be obtained from the contractor to verify these conditions are met. For more information contact your insurance agent.
Centralizing Your Fleet Operations
It is recommended that you appoint one person to oversee the fleet operations. By having one key management person in charge, they will be able to assure all safety procedures and policies are being adhered to by your drivers.
Remember, the physical safety of children when being transported is the primary goal.