“In general, when you, as the adult leader, coordinate transportation, you assume responsibility and liability. Always make arrangements out of an abundance of caution.”
Driving with Youth
The program year offers many opportunities to gather youth together for activities away from the church building. Offering transportation allows all children to attend acolyte or choir festivals, or day-long service and educational opportunities. Furthermore, traveling together allows your youth to bond with one another in life-changing ways.
Unfortunately, statistically speaking the single-most dangerous thing you can do with your youth is to put them in vehicles and drive off into the sunset. To keep the good times safely rolling, it’s important to be thorough and intentional in your travel plans.
The Big Cautions
Before you load up and head out, before you make up flyers, or ask for volunteers, contact your church and/or diocesan insurance provider and review the coverage for drivers, both in their own vehicles and in rented vehicles. There may be restrictions on van seating capacity and the age of the drivers. Verify any insurance requirements related to hauling trailers, if applicable.
In general, when you, as the adult leader, coordinate transportation, you assume responsibility and liability. Always make arrangements out of an abundance of caution. Teens should not be driving other teens, even in their personal vehicles. It is preferable to have two unrelated adults in each vehicle, but if the number of chaperones doesn’t permit this, ensure that drivers are never alone in a vehicle with a single youth participant (unless it’s their own child). Participant permission forms should include authorization for youth to be transported by personal vehicles and/or rental vehicles and should include a list of authorized drivers.
Prior to the trip, each of your drivers will need to complete Safeguarding God’s Children as required by your diocese. Before allowing anyone to transport youth, you will want to request a copy of each driver’s license and proof of insurance to verify that they are legal drivers. Before the trip, assemble a packet of information that includes your full itinerary, participant permission forms, and all drivers’ information. You will keep a copy and another copy should be left at the church office or with a home contact to be used in the event of an emergency.
Drivers should also agree to a written contract that details the guidelines they are expected to follow. Here is a sample:
- The driver will abide by the speed limit and all other vehicular/traffic laws. It’s amazing how many drivers will exceed the speed limit with other people’s kids in the car.
- Every time they get in the car, the driver will verify everyone is correctly wearing their seatbelts. Again, this is something that cannot be assumed. It’s terrifying how, when asked if they are buckled up, kids in the back seats will admit they are unbuckled because “…someone is sitting on my seatbelt” or “…my seatbelt is broken.” The car doesn’t move unless everyone is correctly buckled up.
- The driver will not use a mobile device or GPS while operating the vehicle. Usually whoever is riding shotgun gets the job of navigator or communicator.
- The driver will not be alone in a vehicle with an unrelated youth.
- The driver will try to avoid packing the car in such a way as to limit visibility; and make sure roof racks are correctly installed, secured and loaded.
- If hauling a trailer, review safety precautions for correctly loading, hitching and securing the trailer. Trailers are never to be used for transporting people and should always have operational caution lights.
Additional Travel Considerations
Before you pull out of the driveway, make sure each driver has a complete set of permission forms for everyone in their car, a printout of the directions, and a map – even if they have a GPS in the vehicle. Don’t rely on drivers following each other – traffic may cause cars to get separated.
Agree in advance on where you will stop for breaks. On long trips, err on the side of stopping frequently. Everyone needs the break. Make sure each “navigator” has the cell phone contact information for each other car programmed into their cell phone. That way, if a vehicle needs to make an unscheduled stop or has a problem, they can communicate with the others.
You and your drivers need to decide in advance if eating or drinking will be permitted in the vehicle. In additon, are kids are allowed to wear headphones or use electronic devices that make noise? You will need to decide if you are going to assign cars or allow the youth to decide for themselves. Assigning cars in advance can eliminate anxiety for those who worry about being excluded when everyone is jostling to sit next to their favorite travel buddy. Finally, if your trip involves equipment or luggage, specify in advance the luggage size they are permitted, and whether or not there will be room for a smaller backpack, purse, or tote-bag with snacks and activities for use during the journey.
On the return trip, it is helpful to ask parents to pick up their children from a centralized location, rather than dropping kids off individually. This avoids the situation of an adult being alone with a youth in a vehicle.
The Power of Youth Group Trips
Stepping out of the usual routine can offer unparalleled opportunities for spiritual growth. With the right preparations, you can encourage your youth to step outside of their comfort zones. They can expand their understanding of their church and who Jesus meant when he said, “Love your neighbor.” Just make sure to do it safely!
Lisa Brown recently accepted a position as the Director of Digital Ministry with Membership Vision. Building on her work in Children’s Ministry and Communications at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA, she helps churches connect to people and to God in the digital space. An active member of Forma and Girl Scout leader, Lisa is passionate about enriching the spiritual lives of people. Her book “The Best Do-It-Yourself VBS Workbook Ever” was published in 2017.