Academic Field Trips

Planning advice for departments managing academic field trips

An academic field trip is an official University activity that is part of an academic course, is educational in nature, occurs in a location other than the class location, and is managed by the academic department.


Academic field trips enhance the learning experience for students and provide other valuable educational benefits. They also involve the potential for increased risk to participants and the University. The advice contained herein is designed to assist academic departments in managing and minimizing this potential increase in risk.

Roles and responsibilities

The itinerary and all aspects of the field trip should be planned in advance by the department, including identifying and addressing potential safety risks. The itinerary should be communicated to the participants, and it should include their roles and expected participation, behavior, any special clothing/ equipment needed during each itinerary activity, and any hazards, dangers, or physical challenges that may be encountered, for example a long set of steep steps .  Ask participants to inform you of any disabilities or special needs that may require accommodation and address these prior to the trip.  

A University representative should be present and responsible for the field trip, and that person should incorporate into the planning process any safety considerations necessary to provide for a safe trip. For example consider whether the class will need to be broken up into smaller groups to accommodate the specific site environment.  Also keeping a list of cell phone numbers for your students and making sure they have the cell phone number for the University representative(s) on the field trip.  Emergency contact information should be obtained on all participants involved with the field trip.

Thoughtful consideration should be given to how emergencies or the need for medical assistance will be managed, and that should be communicated to all participants.  Depending on the nature of the field trip, this can be an informal process that focuses on how to access local medical or emergency assistance at the field trip location, for example list the phone numbers and address for the closest medical facility, or in situations where students will be in remote locations with limited access to medical/emergency assistance the planning for safety and medical emergencies should be more formalized and documented, for example develop a written and detailed  sequence of steps to be followed should emergency medical assistance be required and the injured party cannot walk and needs to be evacuated.  The faculty member responsible for the course is responsible for students on related field trips. The University provides liability coverage to faculty members and employees for these activities as described in FIN-006 Policy: Insurance Coverage sections 2.a. and 2.b. The University also covers employees involved in authorized international activities as described in the foreign liability section of this policy, and additional information is also provided at the following link:

The University is not responsible for the personal property of students or employees, as the University’s property coverage extends only to University owned items or property that is documented to have been leased or loaned to the University.   Please ensure that students are aware that they are responsible for their own property.

Potential auto, liability, or property incidents or losses should be reported within 24 hours to the Office of Property & Liability Risk Management (OPLRM) by the department. Instructions and forms for this required reporting can be found at  It is recommended that during your trip planning these instructions and forms be reviewed and be made a part of the information available to those managing the field trip. It is important to ensure that an incident or loss occurrence is reported to the OPLRM as soon as it is practical to do so.


If students are expected to provide their own transportation, the department should clearly communicate this to students and the department should avoid managing, assisting in, or endorsing carpooling arrangements that could be misconstrued as the University managing and taking responsibility for transportation.

If the department will be providing the ground transportation:

-seek guidance from Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services regarding travel arrangements and reimbursement.
-review and follow these policies and recommendations contained in the Vehicle Usage section of the OPLRM website: vehicle-usage-0. -- (partially reprinted below).
Passenger Transport
For drivers who transport passengers in owned or Rented/Leased vehicles on behalf of the University of Virginia.

  • Drivers of large passenger vehicles or vehicles that hold more than 8 occupants, who will be transporting passengers should have a CDL* or meet the following requirements:
    • Drivers who have not had previous experience with a particular vehicle should spend an adequate amount of time driving that vehicle prior to transporting passengers, preferably in various types of traffic conditions, so that they become thoroughly familiar with the vehicle, and, when possible, accompanied by a driver with experience driving the same type of vehicle.
    • Students who are not also University employees should not transport passengers in these vehicles.
    • Minimum age of the driver should be 21 unless the driver has a CDL or EVOC Certification. Every driver should of course possess a valid United States driver's license.
    • Drivers should have a minimum of two years driving experience.
    • It is preferable that a driver's motor vehicle report not show two or more at fault accidents and/or serious moving violations in the past year, nor three or more at fault accidents and/or serious moving violations in the past three years. There should be no violations related to alcohol or drugs in the past five years. If the transcript reveals more than what is suggested above, it is up to the discretion of department heads whether to allow the driver to transport passengers on behalf of the University. Human Resources will perform a driver's transcript check by request on employees. If you have particular situations you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact Property & Liability Risk Management for further guidance.
  • Drivers of smaller vehicles than those described in #1 above who will be transporting passengers should consider the guidelines in 1 above. However, in lieu of requesting a DMV report, you may ask the driver to show a valid United States driver's license and to tell you about his/her driving record. If a driver will be transporting students, it is recommended that a DMV report be requested as indicated in 1(e) above. Non-employees under 21 should not be transporting passengers on behalf of the University. Avoid the use of students as drivers who are not employees.

*CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) is required when driving a vehicle that can transport more than 15 passengers.

See Also:
Drivers Responsibilities: This link contains a list of responsibilities that drivers should print out, review, and have with them in the vehicle while driving.
PRM-14 Policy: Use and Management of University-Owned Vehicles was adopted on 4/15/2010 and has precedence over the recommendations contained in this memorandum. These recommendations supplement PRM-014 to provide additional guidelines for transportation of passengers in University-owned and non-University-owned vehicles.
The use of 15 Passenger Vans is prohibited as explained in:
Recommendations on 15 passenger van alternatives is provided below and is also available at:   -- (reprinted below)

Recommendations on 15-Passenger Van Alternatives

Modified Vans:
Be careful not to use vehicles (small buses or vans) that are basically modified 15-passenger vans with only cosmetic changes and not safety modifications. Any vehicle which is basically a commercial "cutaway" vehicle with an E-350, E-250, 3500, or 2500 chassis (15-passenger van chassis) should have dual rear wheels (two wheels on each end of the rear axle) to promote greater vehicle stability or meet Federal school bus safety regulations Title 49 Part 571 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards* (with the exception of regulations #108 involving school bus lights, and #131 involving school bus stop bars). These vehicles typically have 15-passenger van front ends with the remainder of the passenger body "cut away" and replaced with a larger body. Note: if the primary purpose is for the transportation of high school and younger students, it is required that the vehicle meet Federal school bus safety regulations (*To ensure that a vehicle meets this standard, ask the leasing agency to verify that the bus meets the standard.

Charter Services:
Departments should make certain that the company being hired has the appropriate insurance. It is recommended that the company have the following: Automobile Liability: $10,000,000 each accident minimum limit of liability for all owned, hired, and non-owned vehicles. General Liability: $1,000,000 per occurrence minimum limit of liability. Workers Compensation per statutory requirement, and Employers' Liability: $1,000,000 minimum limit of liability. It would be appropriate to ask them to provide you with a certificate of insurance as evidence of coverage. You may fax (434-982-2635) or email these to the Property & Liability Risk Management Office for review and advice. If you use the University’s bus charter service through the Department of Parking and Transportation, no insurance verification or certificates are necessary.  Questions regarding procurement guidelines for such activities should be referred to Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services.  

Additionally, if renting vehicles, review Insurance Coverages for Leased/Rented Vehicles:   (reprinted below)

Insurance Coverages for Leased/Rental Vehicles

The University has liability insurance protection to cover damages caused by, or in some cases to, leased vehicles used for official University business. This liability protection is provided to University employees or authorized agents (e.g. students, volunteers) through the Commonwealth of Virginia's Division of Risk Management for third party damages other than to leased vehicles.  Damage to leased vehicles will be covered through a self-insurance program. The department having responsibility for the vehicle must pay the first $1,000 of loss for each claim. Use of credit cards providing coverage for damages to rental vehicles, such as the University travel and purchasing cards, when used to book and pay for vehicle rentals is a potential source of coverage for rental vehicle damage including the $1,000 departmental deductible. However, paying for damage to a rental vehicle will jeopardize coverage through the University's coverage program unless approved by the Office of Property & Liability Risk Management. Because leased vehicles are insured under the State and University program, it is not necessary for employees to purchase additional insurance through the leasing agency if it is located in the United States or Canada. When employees lease vehicles in a foreign country (excluding Canada), we strongly recommend the purchase of liability and physical damage coverage from the leasing agency.

Vehicles leased for 30 days or less are covered up to $2 million per claim in excess of the leased vehicle's primary insurance. If there is no primary insurance, the State's program provides primary coverage when a leased vehicle is involved in an accident due to employee negligence.

The Office of Property & Liability Risk Management will handle all claim related payments with the rental agency on approved claims. The Office of Property & Liability Risk Management will then bill the department for costs incurred up to the $1,000 deductible.

When accepting, and also upon returning the vehicle it is strongly recommended that renters inspect the vehicle and note any damages in the agreement documents in order to avoid being held responsible for pre-existing damages. The rental agreement documents should be given to your department and retained in the event Risk Management may need them to manage a claim related to the rental vehicle.
In order to preclude your department's claim from potentially being denied for reimbursement by the State, adhering to the following guidelines is strongly recommended:

  • If involved in an accident in a rental vehicle immediately contact the police and your supervisor.  If the police deem it not necessary to take a report, you should get their name, badge number, and phone number.
  • Notify the leasing agency of the accident.
  • Complete an Automobile Loss Notice.  The completed Auto Loss Notice may be faxed to Risk Management at (434) 982-2635 or email  The completed Auto Loss Notice should be submitted to Risk Management within 48 hours.  If you will not be able to submit the Auto Loss Notice to Risk Management within the 48 hours call Risk Management at (434) 924-3055.
  • If at all possible DO NOT return a vehicle to the rental agency after hours. 

See also:
FYI for Vehicle Rentals    (reprinted below)

FYI for Vehicle Rentals

  • The department having responsibility for the vehicle must pay the first $1,000 of loss for each claim.
  • If possible, never drop off a rental car after hours. If you must and have the equipment, take 4 pictures (one of each side). The University frequently receives claims for thousands of dollars 2-3 months after rentals are returned.
  • When overseas, DO purchase the extra insurance (Collision Damage Waiver) on an auto rental.
  • The University has an agreement with Enterprise in which the daily rates for US rentals include the Collision Damage Waiver which covers any damage to the vehicle.
  • Note any damage to a rental car BEFORE taking it so that it will not be claimed against you.
  • Don't sign off when returning the car if you don't agree with the damages they have listed - call Risk Management at 434-924-3850 if necessary.

If employees will be using their personal vehicles:
It is important that the employee who will be driving their personally owned vehicle is aware of the risk to their own personal auto policy before agreeing to use their vehicle to transport passengers on behalf of the University as explained in: section 3.c.  (reprinted below)

Personal Vehicles:
When an employee of the University is driving his or her personal vehicle on University business, the State’s automobile insurance plan applies only after the limits of liability on the employee’s personal auto policy have been exhausted. The State policy, however, does not apply toward physical damage to personal vehicles. Individuals should have physical damage coverage, such as comprehensive and collision, on their personal vehicles if they want insurance protection for damages they may incur.

Agreements with other parties

If the field trip involves an agreement or contract with outside entities that involves procuring goods or services by the University  it must undergo review by Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services before being signed by the Director of Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services who has signatory authority. If the agreement or contract does not involve a payment by the University, then it must undergo review by Bill Define in the office of the University Comptroller at (434) 243-5592 or email before being signed by the appropriate signatory authority.  For additional information refer to and adhere to FIN-036 Policy: Signatory Authority for Executing University Contracts:

Advice for other University activities

The above advice is intended for short duration domestic academic field trips. The following are examples of other activities and programs falling outside of the scope of this advice:
Internship, externships, clinical experiences, and other similar programs should be more formally managed within the academic department, including formal agreements with outside organizations and compliance with Policy: Academic Approval and Signatory Authority for Academic Program Agreements

Study abroad and other international travel with students requires more involved planning. All international activities should be coordinated through the International Studies Office (ISO)

Non-University activity disclaimer

For situations involving student initiated or managed travel where there exists the possibility that the activity could be confused as being either an academic field trip or other University activity, there should be a disclaimer in place. This includes student group activities with faculty advisors that is not part of a course:  CIO activities, voluntary attendance at professional organization events and conferences, student initiated and/or organized activities including those supported by University collected fees, and activities students choose to engage in during semester breaks and between semesters.  Here is an example of a disclaimer for such an activity that should be modified to fit your particular situation:  "Social and recreational activities undertaken by students with support from the fees contributed for this purpose are not University activities. Rather the University collects and disburses these funds for social and recreational activities selected by the students.  These activities are not sponsored by the University or part of any University program and students should bear this in mind when participating."

Use of disclosures and Assumption of Risk and Release forms

Disclose academic field trips to students, and include any requirements to transport themselves to an off grounds site, physical demands or risks above the normal course requirements, or other unusual aspects.  For required field trips, this disclosure should be made to students prior to students registering for the course by including it in the Course Description, or a credit alternative should be made available to any student expressing discomfort with taking part in the field trip.  For non-required field trips, this disclosure should occur prior to students signing up for the field trip when there are any requirements to transport themselves to an off grounds site, physical demands or risks above the normal course requirements, or other unusual aspects to the planned activities, and should be followed with a requirement that students sign an ASSUMPTION OF RISK FOR ELECTIVE SCHOOL TRIPS form prior to the field trip. For required and non-required field trips involving inherently risky activities, such as white water rafting, ropes courses, sports, etc.  Please contact the Office of Property & Liability Risk Management for advice. Retain these forms in the department in accordance with University policy.  Please seek advice from the Office of General Counsel regarding any desired changes to the language of this form, or the drafting of a new form.

Risk management advice contacts

The University community is encouraged to seek further advice from the Office of Property & Liability Risk Management for questions or concerns regarding academic field trips and other activities that may present liability concerns or financial loss exposures that might affect the University and its employees or agents.