Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Despite efforts to minimize the number of accidents that occur through a new van certification process implemented last semester, Swarthmore College van drivers continue to incur thousands of dollars in damage and cause inconveniences to the student body.
In addition to costly accidents, the community can temporarily lose the use of one of its three vans even when they suffer no physical harm. Earlier this semester one van was out of commission after it was left in Washington, D.C. during a trip. The student driver for the trip, organized by Professor Hopkins, felt that driving back to Swat would be too dangerous due to the high wind. Jim McKenna, manager of the motor pool for Facilities, commented, “[t]he vans can be very tough to drive, for someone not used to driving them in the wind.” The stranded van in Washington, D.C. required a tow truck to return it to campus. Originally, Facilities paid for the towing of the van, but the Center for Social Policy Studies later reimbursed Facilities. Just before Thanksgiving Break, this very same van, used as an airport shuttle, was totaled in an accident that resulted in no injuries.
While Swarthmore College vans suffer thousands of dollars in damage every semester, insurance claims have decreased since the change in driver certification was implemented from $34,619 between July 2002 and July 2003 to $18,519 between July 2003 and July 2004. There have been four accidents this semester, the same number as last semester, incurring at least $9235 in damages; however, the current figure for damages does not include the accident that totaled a van over Thanksgiving Break. Most of the money that is needed to cover these accidents is covered by insurance, but the college is still required to pay a deductible that normally comes out of the pockets of the departments and students that rent the vans.
Despite continuing accidents, Owen Redgrave, Director of Public Safety, is satisfied with the current van certification procedure, “My sense is that the program is basically sound and accomplishing its original intent – that is, to provide more practice time behind the wheel for new drivers and to assure that drivers are able to safely operate the vehicles.”
Jonathan Ference ’07, who served as Student Council van coordinator for the fall semester, is resigning because the demands of the job are too high. “I was constantly losing sleep because students would wake me up at 5:15 a.m. wondering where their van form had gotten to. On one notable incident, a student barged into my room at 7:00 a.m. looking for a van….My roommates stopped liking me so much after that,” Ference remarked.
Ference will be van certification tester next semester, a positioned hired by Public Safety. According to Redgrave, Public Safety was looking “for an individual with the interest and/or experience in driver training” for the position of van certification tester.