Do Your Drivers Play 'Follow the Leader?'

Avoid traveling in caravans to improve ministry transportation safety

Church trips requiring one or more vehicles to blindly follow a lead bus, van, or car can be dangerous, even if the distance traveled is short. Caravan travel has contributed to a number of fatal collisions involving ministry vehicles. Taking the time to evaluate your church’s transportation patterns and implement basic safety measures can make your future group travels safer.

What’s the Problem?

Several elements can play a major role in making caravan travel risky:

  • Fear of getting separated from the group. Drivers may panic and take chances, such as tailgating, running red lights, or failing to yield at intersections.
  • A desire to have fun. Teenage drivers are especially prone to risky behavior behind the wheel—such as racing other caravan members, tailgating, or weaving in traffic—particularly when driving teen passengers. All of these maneuvers increase the risk of accidents.
  • Following blindly. Secondary drivers may assume that the caravan leader has assessed the risk for the entire procession—and end up in harm’s way by repeating the lead driver’s maneuver without noticing oncoming traffic.

What’s the Solution?

Common sense planning will keep caravan travel safer and less stressful:

Remove the fear factor. Provide the tools for drivers to stay in communication and on track if they become separated from the pack:

  • Precise directions
  • A good map
  • Portable navigation device
  • Cellphones or two-way radios

Use experienced drivers. Select drivers 21 or older who:

  • Have clean driving records.
  • Have operated and are comfortable with the specific vehicles to be used.
  • Have experience in maneuvering and braking heavily loaded vehicles.

Prepare the lead driver. Other drivers will mirror the lead driver’s moves, so he or she must be mindful of the entire caravan when changing lanes, turning, entering intersections, and entering and exiting highways.

Assign navigators. Allow the drivers to focus on the road. Appoint an adult in each vehicle to manage the maps and monitor traffic, weather, and passengers.

Switch drivers every few hours. Give drivers a break to help them stay fresh. Breaks give them time to grab a nap, stretch their legs, or drink a cup of coffee.

Have a Plan B. Before leaving, all drivers should discuss and agree on:

  • Communication methods.
  • A distress signal with which to stop the lead vehicle.
  • A rendezvous point if one vehicle gets separated from the others.

What Are My Other Options?

Consider these alternative approaches to driving in a "train" of vehicles:

  • Drive independently. With clear directions and accurate maps, group members should be able to meet at a given time at the destination.
  • Use one large vehicle. Opt for a van or small bus instead of multiple cars. Small buses are best, since they must meet stricter safety requirements than vans and are less likely to roll over.
  • Charter a bus. While hiring professionals may cost more than using church-owned or private vehicles, the benefits of safety and convenience could outweigh the expense, especially for long trips. Be sure to choose a bus company with a good safety record.

In the end, your objective is to come up with the best and safest plan that fits your ministry and the circumstances. These precautions can help you prevent unnecessary stress and potential accidents, leaving you free to enjoy your trip.