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Transportation Issues: What Are Your Responsibilities?
By Carolyn R. Tomlin

Accountability for child care centers is at an all-time high. Lawsuits threaten to close many doors. Headlining the news this past year are stories of babies, toddlers and young children being left on child care vans for hours, sometimes all day. Some survived. Others, did not. How can you insure a tragic situation doesn't happen to your center? And what about the responsibility of drivers you hire for center vans that pickup and return children back home? Or for field trips? What about children with disabilities? And how can you guide parents to trust people responsible for their child's care?

No child should suffer because of a preventable injury.

In the News…

  • A 15-passenger van transporting six children on I-240 in Memphis drifted off the right side of the roadway, over-rode the guardrail and struck a bridge abutment. The driver ejected through the windshield and sustained fatal injuries. Four children were killed and two seriously hurt. (Commercial Appeal, April 6, 2002.)
  • One state cautioned almost 3,800 licensed child care programs to make sure criminal background checks have been conducted and documented for workers hired after January 15, 2001 (Commercial Appeal, April 6, 2002).
  • Ten Davidson County (middle Tennessee) childcare agencies have been put on notice and one has been suspended for infractions in the way they transport children in their care that could jeopardize the children's safety.
  • Last year two young children died after being left alone on child care vans in the heat of summer.
  • In hot summer day in Texas, a toddler was left for at least 2 hrs in a closed van after the class returned from a field trip. When hospitalized in critical condition, the child's temperature had reached 108 degrees. (www.nbc5i.com)
  • A driver leaves his van for a minute with the keys in the ignition. A youngster releases the brake and the van rolls down an embankment.
  • In Tampa, Florida a 16-month-old died in a closed day care van. The child was strapped in a car seat nearly 7 hours. Rescuers believe the child died from heat exhaustion.
  • A Daytona Beach day care worker was charged with child neglect after leaving a 2-year-old in a closed van for two hours. On a hot day, the temperature inside a closed van can reach 120 degrees in just minutes.

According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, neglect is on the rise. The organization reported that from 1996-2000 more than 130 children died from heat stroke after being left in closed vehicles.

What is Being Done?

John Hopkins Hospital Center for Injury, Research and Policy has adapted and prepared materials to be distributed by the Child Care Mobile Safety Center as well as providing training for the staff traveling in the van that goes out to various child centers. The training will be aimed at child care providers to raise awareness about ways to prevent injury, as well as the need for accurate record keeping about accidents, not as a punitive tool, but as an educational tool to reduce the number of kinds of accidents which occur.

Dr. Max Luque, a pediatric physician at Tampa General Hospital addresses groups about the dangers of leaving children in closed vehicles during hot weather. The body of a child after it reaches 105.8 or 106 degrees becomes susceptible to comas, seizures and multiple organ failure. This, of course, can result in death. (www.injuryboard.com/view.cfm/Article=903).

Despite written warning a month in advance from the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS), nearly 100 childcare centers statewide continued to operate in violation of transportation rules such as drug-screenings for van drivers, passenger logs and van checks to ensure children are not inadvertently left unattended.

"Seeing those [violations] is really troubling because that’s where you're going to see a child forgotten," DHS representative Michelle Mowery Johnson said.

Due to the risk involved, approximately one-third of child care agencies obtains licenses to transport children. For many, the liability risk outweighs the enjoyment of a field trip. Although most driver are conscientious, too many dangers can happen with children on vans on busy days (Alden, The City Paper).

Transportation Rules Ensure Child Safety

  • Transportation between home, the child care agency, school and on field trips is the full responsibility of providers and their employers. The following guidelines will lessen the chance that a tragic accident could happen to children enrolled in your center.
  • Adequate vehicle liability insurance must be carried on each vehicle transporting children.
  • A passenger log, listing each child's name, must be kept by the driver or other designated staff person. Each sibling must be listed individually.
  • When making a stop, loading or unloading, a roll check of each passenger must be made during transportation.
  • All children released to a parent or guardian during transportation must be noted in the passenger log.
  • After the last child exits the van, the driver and any other staff members on the van must physically walk through and thoroughly search the van's interior. These individuals must immediately deliver the passenger lag to the person designated by the center.
  • When the van returns to the center, a designated caregiver or management level staff person other than the person responsible for the passenger log, must reconcile the passenger log, and physically walk through and inspect the interior of the vehicle.
  • Staff responsible for transporting children must receive adequate training on the rules no less than every six months. This must be documented in staff records (Tennessee Department of Human Services, May 23, 2000).


Child Care Settings and the Americans with Disabilities Act

No longer can children be excluded from a child care setting on the basis of a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights legislation designed to protect people with mental or physical disabilities from discrimination based upon disability. Title III, generally effective as of January 26, 1992, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and requires places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed and altered in compliance with the ADA Accessibility Guideline.

The same requirements under Title III that apply to child care centers apply to the transportation service that is provided. Barriers to equal access and use of vehicle(s) by children with disabilities must be removed to the extent it is readily achievable to do so. It is not mandatory that centers retrofit existing vehicle(s) with hydraulic or other lifts. However, any vehicles added to the transportation service must adhere to the regulations issued by the Department of Transportation.


Know your legal responsibilities. Keep up with changing laws. Plan safety-awareness workshops for staff and teachers. Invite parents and guardians to become active participants in your child care center. All parents have a right to expect a safe environment in which to leave their child. And ask yourself: If these were my children in what ways could I ensure their safety?


Carolyn R. Tomlin, Jackson, TN, has taught early childhood education at Union University, directed a preschool program and developed a pilot kindergarten program. She writes for numerous educational publications.


Katherine Alden, "DHS Finds Van Violations," The City Paper, July 09, 2004, www.nashvillecitypaper.com.

Child Care Settings and the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Arc National Headquarters, Silver Spring, MD. #101-33, Revised April 1994.

Commercial Appeal, April 4, 2002

Commercial Appeal, April 6, 2002

Department of Human Services (DHS), "Child Care Providers Urged to Comply With DHS Transportation Rules to Avoid Heat-Related Accidents This Summer" May 25, 2000. www.state.tn.us/humanserv/childcaresummer.htm