Student organizations find difficulty with travel insurance

Jason Henry and Jason Henry

As the University struggles with financial issues, some student organizations have had to set aside money to purchase or rent transportation to avoid legal issues associated with carpooling in a personal vehicle. Other organizations have had to take these risks due to their limited resources.

According to the Undergraduate Student Travel Policy outlined in the Student Handbook, student organizations are “strongly discouraged” from using personal transportation to University-sponsored events because of the lack of protection it offers.

“The driver assumes liability in that situation by using their own personal vehicle,” said Denny Bubrig, assistant dean of students.

While the University does offer liability waivers for students to sign when traveling to University-sponsored events, it does not protect a student using their personal vehicle, but instead protects the institution from any liability, said Kim Miller, director of risk management.

“I don’t really know that there are specific things that students can do to avoid that liability,” she said.

The best way student organizations can avoid putting their members at legal risk is by renting or purchasing a vehicle that would fall under the University’s insurance, according to the Student Transportation Policy.

The Chapman Learning Community at Kohl recently purchased a mid-sized van, which can carry 10 people at a time, specifically to combat these types of issues.

“We bought a van so that the University insurance covers them first.” said Gail Brinker, the secretary for Chapman Learning Community. “It was a protection for our students.”

The organization often does service learning programs where students do volunteer work at various locations, some within walking distance but others as far as Toledo, said Madeline Duntley, director of the Chapman Learning Community.

“The University supported the service learning, but we didn’t have transportation available for those volunteer opportunities,” Brinker said.

Since getting the van, Duntley said it isn’t enough. The organization still has to rent other vehicles, costing around $100 each time, because it has 130 members across 10 service learning programs and only the one van to transport them with.

She said her organization was lucky to even get the van. She set up a deal with the College of Arts and Sciences last year before the budget cuts were announced to pay for half of the cost of the van, but the van still cost the group $9,000.

“It would have been extremely difficult for us to get the van this year if the [College of] Arts and Sciences had not supported the purchase with half the funding,” she said. “We probably wouldn’t have got the van, essentially, if we had waited until later.”

Other organizations with limited funds, such as the International Relations organization, have not been as lucky. According to Marc Simon, the faculty advisor for the organization, it is too expensive to rent several vans.

Each year, the International Relations organization attends the American Model United Nations Conference in Chicago and transportation is always an issue.

“What we end up doing … is that we have students basically drive their own cars,” Simon said. “And we just hope for the best.”

The organization hasn’t had any accidents yet but has to continue to carpool because they can’t afford any of the alternatives, according to Simon.

“The cost ends up being so much higher that it would stop us from doing our conference,” Simon said.

“The University is going to have to realize these kinds of programs do need certain types of planning and resources,” Duntley said. “And I think we can be efficient with those [resources] so that they don’t need to disband these opportunities.”

The Office of Campus Activities has worked with Enterprise to offer cheaper rentals to organizations, but there aren’t really any other alternatives at the moment for organizations who can’t afford rentals, Bubrig said.