Photo Credits

Traffic Accident

Emergency responders at a traffic accident on a snowy road.

Driver Training Cone Courses

traffic cones used for driver training

Driving, not activities in the field, presents one of the greatest risks of catastrophic injury or loss of life on outdoor programs. The vehicles that are most often utilized—15 passenger vans—are not the easiest to handle and many drivers are inexperienced with such large vehicles. Add towing a trailer to the mix and things get more challenging.

When I first started driving a 15 passenger van for an outdoor program, my only training consisted of being told “It’s not like driving a car, you just aim it in the general direction you want to go and hope for the best.” Twenty years on we can do better than this. Vehicle handling has improved, but, in many cases, there’s been little improvement in driver training.

Enter the “cone course,” which utilizes simple courses set up in an empty parking lot to familiarize drivers with maneuvering a large vehicle. The low consequences of failure—just knocking over a few traffic cones—means that drivers can experiment with maneuvering in a way they can’t on the road.

The training provided by cone courses is best at reducing low-speed, fender bender type accidents, but they also help drivers become more comfortable with maneuvering the vehicles in general. Several OSI clients including Eastern Washington University’s EPIC Adventures, The Yellowstone Association Institute, and Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA have found cone courses to be a valuable training tool. Cone courses are especially useful for training staff to tow trailers.

In addition to the vehicle, you’ll need an empty parking lot and some traffic cones. Don’t try to use other markers for the course—the point of this approach is a low consequence training exercise. It should be OK for both the vehicle and the markers if a few get run over.

Course Ideas

The diagram below illustrates a simple cross setup that can be use for the first two exercises. You may need to provide a little more spacing for practicing with a trailer.

Straight Line: Try it backwards and forwards, many staff will have a hard time backing up straight, especially with a trailer ("A" in the diagram).

90º Turns:
Left and right, forwards (See "B" below) and backwards (See "C" below). This is where many staff will have a hard time.

Avoid a series of cones placed in the vehicles path by weaving around them. Setup a row of 3-4 cones each separated by about 30 feet (not illustrated).

Parallel Parking:
Create a “parking space” demarcated by cones (not illustrated).

Cone Course Example

Download Cone Course PDF

Download/open a larger PDF version of this diagram including course ideas

Educational Approaches

One on one: Low intensity with just the student and an instructor

Group challenge:
A group event where there is some element of competition (this may be the most fun people will ever have with driver training)

As a test of driving proficiency (probably following other experience with the course)

You might also consider letting staff use a vehicle on the course without an instructor present to allow for some low-pressure practice time.

15 Passenger Van After Rollover AccidentSafety!

These are low speed exercises! Remember that 15 passenger vans are tippy—it’s fine to hit a few cones, but never come anywhere close to rolling the rig. Also, this is just one small part of a comprehensive transportation safety program—be sure you have appropriate training and risk management procedures in place.

Yes, the picture is of a client's vehicle after a low-speed rollover, but no, it was not being used on a cone course. Bonus info: roof racks are not recommended for these vehicles!

Let us know what twists you add to the cone course and how it works with your staff!



Buying Cones

Traffic cone!

Decent size traffic cones range from about $8.50 to $12.50 each on We recommend the durable "3M PVC Traffic Safety Cone, 18-Inch," or the "3M PVC Traffic Safety Cone, 12-Inch." We prefer the 18-inch versions that are nice for drivers as they're easier to see in mirrors, but the 12" versions are fine too. You will need 24 cones for the full setup shown in the PDF, but you can get by with 14-16 if you set up a "T" style course or move things around a bit during the training.

Posted by

Alex Kosseff

on 6/13/13
Program ManagementResourceTransportation


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