In the Driver's SeatLearn how your church can make safer transportation a priority.
Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company | posted 5/14/2008
As warm weather arrives, church vehicles increasingly hit the roads. Since vehicle accidents also rise in the summer, it's a good time to consider what your church may be doing—or not doing—to reduce its accident risk.
Barely 15 minutes into a trip to a Christian youth rally in Mississippi, tragedy struck a group of four Arkansas church youth. The 17-year-old driver, who had been given the keys to a 15-passenger church van, was accompanied by his 15-year-old best friend and two other boys, 13 and 11. Planning to get an early start on the long drive, members of the group loaded their gear, stopped for some doughnuts, and started out about 5 a.m.
Before they had even left town, they had an accident. The van veered to the right and crashed into the heavy base of a shopping mall sign. Although no one was ejected from the van, the front-seat passenger received severe internal and head injuries and later died at a local hospital. The boys in the rear seat were also injured. Only one was wearing a seatbelt.
Although the driver initially said that he swerved to avoid a bicyclist, he later stated that he may have fallen asleep momentarily.
Thousands of accidents like these occur every year with church vehicles, although most are less severe. Many start with a moment of driver inattention—like most car accidents—but turn tragic because larger vans and buses handle differently than cars do.
All too often, churches fail to take simple precautions that could drastically reduce the risk of accidents. "As an insurer of more than 30,000 churches, we manage thousands of claims every year," said Scott Figgins, Brotherhood Mutual's vice president of claims. "We see many losses that could probably have been avoided."
How could the church have reduced its risk?
Training and Experience. "The best thing churches can do to make transportation safer is to make driver training and experience a priority," noted Brock Bell, loss control manager for Brotherhood Mutual. Churches should try to identify drivers with as much experience as possible, preferably at least five years of regular driving. Relatively new drivers (such as 16- to 20-year-olds) lack adequate behind-the-wheel experience—particularly when it involves transporting others.
Further, drivers need specialized training if they'll be driving a larger van or bus. "The most severe accidents, often involving fatalities or serious injuries, usually are caused by drivers' lack of understanding of the handling dynamics of longer vehicles," said Figgins. Vans and buses have longer wheelbases and higher centers of gravity than cars do, which makes them more prone to rollovers. These are among the reasons the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued multiple warnings about the use of 15-passenger vans.