School Field Trips: Transportation

Field trips offer exciting, hands-on opportunities for students to explore art, history, science, and other topics outside of the classroom. Once you have picked the perfect destination to match your curriculum, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to get there.

Some modes of transportation, such as 15-passenger vans, have poor safety records. Their high centers of gravity make them more likely to roll over in the event of an accident. Consider other options for transporting students to and from your field trip location. Here are some other choices:

School buses. These may be the safest way to transport children. School buses must meet more federal safety standards than any other vehicle on the road. They’re larger and heavier than most other vehicles, and they’re structurally designed to protect occupants in the event of a crash. Also, school bus drivers must be trained and hold a special license, called a Commercial Driver's License (CDL), before being allowed to transport students.

Chartered buses. For long trips, or when school buses and vans are not available, a recognized charter bus service is a good option. The service provides a trained, CDL-licensed driver, and these buses offer more comfortable seating than a school bus. Make sure you obtain a certificate of insurance naming the school as an additional insured on the bus company’s liability insurance.

Small buses. Small buses offer many of the same safety features that larger school buses do, making them a safer option than vans.

Vans.  Some states restrict the use of large vans for transporting children to and from school activities unless the vans meet federal school bus safety standards. Learn the law in your state before using vans that can seat more than 10 passengers for any school, childcare, or Head Start purposes. If vans are used, provide driver training that covers safely driving and loading the van.

Private vehicles.  The use of private vehicles is not recommended because schools have little control over the operation of these vehicles. If private vehicles are used, it is important to do the following:

  • Screen volunteer drivers before allowing them to transport children.
  • Inform parents that designated volunteers will be driving and obtain written parental permission to this arrangement.
  • Remind vehicle owners that their liability insurance is primary in the event of an accident.
  • Provide detailed driving instructions and maps to each driver, so that all vehicles can travel independently of one another. Forcing drivers to blindly follow one another can lead to serious accidents.

Walking. Find the safest route from your school to the class’s destination, factoring in elements like lighting, weather, sidewalks, neighborhoods, time of day, and traffic flow. Adult chaperones should keep every student in sight at all times while walking to the destination.

City bus/train.  Closer supervision of students is needed on city buses and trains than on school buses. Have a plan for keeping students’ tolls and tickets safe.

Regardless of which transportation option you choose, be smart about getting students safely to your field trip destination and back.