Moving away to university will be a brand new experience for many of you and it might be the first time you’ve been away from home. During your time at university, you will be exposed to many unfamiliar scenarios, sometimes not knowing how to handle them. Personal injury law firm JMW has written a guide on how to survive university, so you can keep safe, avoid prosecution and enjoy time studying at university.
You will also be responsible for making decisions about how you live your life, which could seem like a chance to cut loose from those apron strings, but if you don’t know how to keep yourself safe, this thoroughly enjoyable time can soon turn into a nightmare.
That’s why we’ve created this guide because we understand what university can be like. After all, many of us have experienced it first hand!
We’ll take you through the key issues that could leave you in need of legal advice, including:
Driving in a new city
Extracurricular activities and societies
You’ll learn the best way to avoid prosecution, keep safe and make the most of what will hopefully be the best time of your life.
Driving in a New City
If you’re lucky enough to own a car, you will want to spend your time enjoying student life and not worrying about driving in an unfamiliar city.
But driving in a busy town or city can be challenging enough for those familiar with its layout, so if you don’t know your way around, even the simplest journey can become very stressful. Additionally, if you’ve learnt to drive in a suburban or rural setting, making the transition to a large town or city can be tricky.
So how do you ensure your safety while driving around a new city?
Familiarise yourself with the city
Before you make your first few trips out, it’s worth taking a look at an up-to-date map and familiarising yourself with the roads around the places that you’re going to visit the most, e.g. your university campus, accommodation, the library, shopping centres and takeaways. This can save a lot of time as it can be difficult looking for where you need to go while navigating the roads, not to mention the fact that not having your full attention on the road could lead to an accident!
Most cities are split into districts or suburbs of some sort, and a good idea to help you to get to know your new city is to explore a district in your spare time. You can do this in your car, by foot or on public transport – the more you know an area, the more confident you’ll be travelling through it when driving.
There are more than just cars on city roads.
Towns and cities are full of other road users that you need to be aware of and deal with appropriately, including:
There are often lanes in place for other types of traffic, and these can call for certain actions to be taken. For example, bus lanes are not always strictly reserved for buses, so always be sure to check road signs for what times they are in use.
Cycle lanes are highlighted by a clear white line and must not be crossed, unless turning left or right. At certain junctions, an area of the road is designated for cyclists in front of traffic (known as an advanced stop line, or ‘cycle box’), so make sure you keep behind the second white line if you come across this area.
It is general good practice to give cyclists as much room as you are able to on the roads, as often, cycle lanes can be fairly narrow and cyclists will benefit from the extra space.
Drivers must also give way to trams that run through a city, due to their slow stopping time and inability to steer. You must also be aware when crossing tracks as they provide less grip for cars than the roads, especially when it’s wet or icy.
Understanding one-way systems
Many cities feature this type of road to help improve the flow of traffic. Getting to know the one-way systems in your new home will certainly help you get from A to B and help to prevent you being involved in an accident.
One-way systems can be a little off putting as you will not be used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, which they enable you to do. Although you may be familiar with using the right-hand lane on a dual carriageway, one-way systems don’t have separate rules for specific lanes, and allow you to overtake and merge on either side.
Always check for delays
In larger urban conurbations, it is inevitable that heavy traffic, unexpected or otherwise, will cause delays on popular routes. It’s advisable to check traffic reports before you leave the house, as running into unexpected delays can make you late for that all important lecture or study meeting, resulting in unnecessary stress. Likewise, it’s important that you give yourself enough time to reach your destination.
One of the best (and most cost-effective) ways to get up-to-date traffic reports is with an app for your smartphone or tablet. If your phone supports Google Maps, you can also get an idea of how heavy the traffic is by inputting your destination. This will turn the streets on the map green, yellow, or red, according to how busy/quiet they are.
Three of the best traffic apps
RAC Traffic provides news on incidents, delays and roadworks across the UK on a Google map.
The AA Breakdown and Traffic app allows street-level updates on traffic roadworks, plus, if you’re an AA member, it allows you to inform the service of your exact location should you break down.
Live Traffic Info is the official app of the Highways Agency and uses data from vehicle monitors, CCTV and patrols to report on traffic on motorways and A-roads in England.
Be prepared for rush hour
As with delays, wherever there is a city, a rush hour will exist. If you can, avoid travelling at these times as there is more chance of an accident taking place, as some drivers do not pay as much attention to the roads as they should. However, if it is unavoidable, make sure you leave yourself enough time for your journey so you arrive at your destination with plenty of time to spare, as rushing may result in you making an error, getting stressed out and potentially increase your chances of being involved in an accident.
Similarly, if you miss a turning or exit, don’t panic, and DO NOT pull an illegal manoeuvre to get where you need to go. Simply carry on the way you are going and find a safe place to turn around and go back on yourself.
Find safe and secure parking
From multi-storey complexes and underground car parks to side streets and hidden away plots, there are many places to park your car across a city. Although some may offer cheap parking, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily secure.
Consider paying that little bit extra so you have peace of mind that your car and belongings are being monitored by CCTV or a security team, and so that your safety is front and centre if you are walking to or from the car park on your own late at night or very early in the morning.
However, paying for parking on a student’s budget isn’t always easy and sometimes you may need to park more cheaply. There are ways to make sure your car is as secure as possible, no matter where you park it.
Try and take all your belongings with you when you leave your vehicle in a car park.
If that’s not possible, make sure they are locked away in the boot or glove compartment, or concealed away from any passers-by who might be tempted to steal them.
Park in an area that provides lighting at night to make it easier to find your way to your car.
Buy a tried-and-tested steering wheel or gear stick lock to deter thieves from stealing your car – most reliable retailers can provide advice on which type are suitable for your vehicle.
Avoid nasty parking fines by keeping some spare change on you in case that library visit or social event runs over the time you’ve already paid for. If you feel you’ve been awarded a parking fine unfairly, you can contest it. Keep a record of your original ticket, the fine itself, and any photographic evidence you may have to support your case. You can then write a letter to the organisation administering the parking services you’ve used, outlining your case and the reasons you feel you shouldn’t be liable for parking. If the situation escalates, contact a solicitor who will be able to advise you further.
The start of a new academic year not only sees students heading back to the library and lecture hall, but also to the bars and pubs. Drinking has always been synonymous with students, but while representing a fun way to socialise, it also has its dangers – one of which can be suffering an injury whilst under the influence of alcohol.
Many people injure themselves after a few too many, but can you still claim compensation if you hurt yourself while drunk?
The simple answer is potentially yes, but such incidents are judged on a case-by-case basis. If the accident was not your fault – for example, you tripped over an uneven surface – you may be able to make a claim. However, if your injuries were triggered entirely due to your own actions – for example, falling off a table after being advised against standing on it by the venue you’re in – then it is likely you’ll have no recourse. It is possible you might be held as being partly responsible for your accident, but again this would depend on the individual circumstances of the event. A qualified personal injury solicitor will be able to provide you with a clear steer on whether or not your accident circumstances enable you to make a claim.
Students and alcohol
Awareness of the dangers of drink is particularly important to students because of the unique position in which you find yourselves. Many of you will have only recently reached the legal drinking age, and may not be used to heavy nights of drinking in a big city away from the safety of your home. Couple this with the fact student nights out are often shaped by drinking games, dares and peer pressure, and you have a cocktail – pardon the pun – for disaster.
What’s more, being armed with a student load means you can afford more alcohol than you’d previously been able to, and peer pressure can be a strong incentive to make you part with your cash for alcohol.
You may also overdo it in a bid to impress your new friends, and while most people have a drunken injury story they like to retell – falling down the stairs of a club or walking into a lamppost, anyone? – some injuries that happen on a night out can be pretty serious. For example, tripping can lead to extremely painful injuries depending on the sort of surface, and whether you land on your face, elbows or knees.
Alcohol can also reduce reaction time significantly, so there may not be time to put a hand out as quickly as normal, and if there’s been an injury, it may not be immediately apparent, as you might not feel the pain thanks to the alcohol in your blood. That’s something to bear in mind as it may mean a delay in seeking medical assistance, potentially making any innjury worse, and recovery time longer.
Look after yourself
As a student, it is essential you do all you can to look after yourself when socialising. Alcohol can make you do things you normally wouldn’t, and being drunk can lead to situations you would usually hope to avoid. While it is important to socialise and enjoy yourself, it is also important to look after yourself.
Jason Harwood, a Partner in our Personal Injury team, comments:
“If you are injured on a night out and you’ve been drinking, a lot of people will automatically assume that they aren’t able to make a personal injury claim, because they were intoxicated. However, that’s often not the case as ultimately, it is still down to whether or not another individual or organisation was negligent and their negligence led to your injury.”
“For example, if you’re in a bar or nightclub, and you are injured because the venue’s owner hasn’t been meeting their responsibilities to ensure your safety, such as making sure fixtures and fittings are secure, or enforcing guidance intended to promote safety, such as ‘plastics only’, then you are well within your rights to make a claim. Each individual case is different, so it’s important to have an understanding of what your legal rights are.”
Extracurricular Activities and Societies
Joining a society or signing up for an activity can give you a chance to meet like-minded people and make new friends. It’s also a really good way to pick up an old hobby, try something new, take a break from studying or get more involved with the university.
Here we take a look at how you can join a society and what you need to do to ensure that you’re safe when participating in activities.
Joining a Society
In the first couple of weeks of term your university will hold a Freshers’ Fair, where all the groups gather to recruit new members. There is something to suit every taste, whether you want to take part in a sport, join a debating society, improve your guitar-playing skills or learn a new language, you’re sure to find a club that interests you.
Some tips to consider when attending the Freshers’ Fair include:
Take a bag – Many societies will bribe you into registering with lots of free stuff, so be sure to take advantage and collect as much information as you can.
Sign up to lots of groups – Don’t think you only have to commit yourself to one group, especially as you may not have made any decisions yet. You’ll receive introductory emails with more information, allowing you to make your mind up later.
Attend the welcome meetings – Most groups will hold meetings to welcome potential new members, with no obligation for you to sign up. This will give you a chance to meet others in the group and see if it is the right fit for you.
It’s not just for freshers – Despite the name, the fair is not just for first year students, so if there’s anything you were unsure about last year, you’ll have the chance to try it out this time around.
Following the Freshers’ Fair there are a couple of weeks for you to ‘try out’ the clubs and sports before officially joining up. Most clubs will ask for a membership fee, which covers use of the equipment, room hire and any other expenses. This is why you need to be sure that the group you join is something you can commit to over the year because you won’t want to waste your money.
Many societies invite members to join up no matter their experience. It’s important before you commit, to check that a professional will be involved in the club, as some sessions may be organised by a student with a keen interest in that pursuit. This may lead to a lack of proper training, which, in turn, may place you in harm’s way, particularly if the club is based around an active pursuit, such as skiing, archery or rock climbing. This is something to be mindful of if you are unfamiliar with an activity, as only a fully-trained instructor can teach you how to practice safely.
Clubs, claims and compensation
Most physical activities come with a certain risk of injury no matter how careful you are, and in most cases you’ll be able to make a claim for compensation if the accident was not your fault. Where possible, the Students’ Association provides public liability insurance for society events, which covers injuries caused by negligence. This includes errors made by a professional, the provision of unsuitable equipment and lack of sufficient training.
Remember, many activities will require you to buy safety equipment, which can be difficult on a student budget. It might be tempting to not bother as you think you’ll be okay, particularly if you’ve got some experience in the activity you’re doing. However, if you’ve been advised to buy equipment, this will be for a reason and it will be in your best interests to purchase it. If you don’t, and you suffer an injury, you will not be eligible to make a claim.
So if you do have an accident in the course of pursuing your club’s particular activity, whether that’s skiing or student brewing (yes, it exists), fell walking or the film club, you should be able to make a claim for compensation if the accident was not your fault.
Starting a new university can be a very exciting time and you may be tempted to try lots of new things. However, it’s important you understand your limits and make sure you feel comfortable with everything you choose to do. After all, you don’t want what could be the best time of your life to turn into a nightmare.
Staying Safe on Social Media
Social media plays a huge part in university life, with students not only using it for social purposes, but to also connect with others to benefit their studies. However, while there are many positive aspects to engaging in social media use, there are also certain risks.
While every person should be careful about what they post on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, students should take particular care because their social media activity may not only reflect badly on themselves, it may also hinder their future job prospects.
Here, we offer advice to students on how to enjoy social media, whilst avoiding the risks:
Use your common sense
One of the main things to remember online is that, just as you would in real life, you must use common sense when interacting with others. You wouldn’t act disrespectfully to someone you just met on the street, so why do it to someone you come across online?
Make sure everything you post is accurate, to the best of your knowledge, and that you are not flouting any university rules – or any wider laws – by posting without thinking. Social media can be a great tool for students to help improve both their learning experience and their social lives at university. Be sure to use it responsibly.
Remember – anyone can see what you’ve posted!
Social media generally promotes a fun, sociable environment for its users, so, it can be all too easy to post something on the spur of the moment to amuse others. On the flip side, it can be easy to join in a debate that quickly spirals out of control and turns into a mud-slinging exercise. You need to think twice before doing either. A good way to look at this is to ask the question ‘would you like what you post to be seen by a future employer?’ Whether a silly photo or a contentious comment, might they dissuade a potential employer from hiring you should they see them?
Bear in mind that social media may well be used as evidence in a personal injury claim, should you find yourself in the position of having to make one. Of course, circumstances will be different for each individual case, however, American courts have seen the submission of evidence from Facebook used to dismiss a personal injury claim.
In a similar vein, Fitbit data was submitted across the pond last year when a decision was being made regarding an injured person’s claim for the level of activity they had been able to perform due to their accident.
Representatives of defendants often make use of surveillance footage to test someone making a claim, and to see if what they’ve been told is accurate. In recent times they have started to also use social media surveillance to look for inconsistencies in a Claimant’s case. It isn’t a pleasant tactic, but your online movements are open to being tracked just as much as your physical movements are, so if you have had an accident and are making a claim, it is best to remember this when you’re updating your Facebook status or sending a Tweet and exercise
Think about your own safety
While being aware of how your social media activity can affect others is one thing, it is quite another to consider how it can negatively impact you. You should be aware at all times that you should not post anything that compromises your personal security.
For instance, be careful not to reveal too many details about yourself that others could use to hurt you. This can include all manner of information, such as details about where you live and when you are away from your home. Student houses and the expensive possessions within have been known to be particularly popular among thieves. Also, refrain from revealing your date of birth or any other information that could be used as a means to steal your identity or exploit you in any other way.
Many people choose to travel either during or immediately following their time as a student, hoping to see more of the world before settling into full-time employment. Others, meanwhile, view a holiday as the perfect reward for all of their hard work at university.
To ensure a summer (or winter!) of travel or a holiday in the sun is all you wish it to be, there are certain precautions you should take.
Before you go
As students will be all too aware, preparation is key in order to get the right results. It can be all too easy, however, to get caught up in the excitement of your excursion to forget some of the necessary checks you have to make before you go.
Do you know about the countries you are traveling to?
While we also advise you plan what to do and see before reaching your location, you should first make sure you’re up to speed with any requirements for accessing the country.
Such requirements might include:
A visa – This is official authorisation needed to get into certain countries, and failure to obtain one may mean you are refused entry. This should be a priority when planning your trip, as you will need to allow yourself plenty of time to apply for a visa if one is required. You can find out whether you need one for your trip at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website:
Vaccinations – When you visit certain countries, you will require certain vaccinations to protect you against diseases that are particularly prevalent or pose a degree of risk in that part of the world. Make sure you check whether you require vaccinations with plenty of time to spare ahead of your trip.
You should also check the FCO for general advice about the destination you are travelling to, as it is here you will find out whether a certain place is currently deemed safe for travel. For example, the FCO may advise only essential travel to a destination, or advise against travelling there altogether.
Do you have all the correct documentation?
It may seem obvious, but it is imperative you have all the correct documentation before setting off on your trip.
Typically, you will need:
Passport – Perhaps the most obvious document that you simply cannot do without is your passport. This can be easy to lose or misplace, especially if you haven’t used it for a while. You also need to make sure it is in date, and you should bear in mind that some countries demand you have at least six months left on your passport before you can travel there.
Travel insurance – This is highly recommended for any trip. Make sure you do all of the necessary research to ensure your policy provides all of the protection you need during your trip. Any medical emergencies can cost you huge sums and effectively ruin your getaway if you do not have travel insurance. This form of protection is an absolute essential if you are travelling on your own, as you don’t want to be left alone with nobody to turn to should something go wrong.
European Health Insurance Card – If travelling in Europe, it is well worth your while getting hold of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). With this card you can get state-funded medical care in any European Economic Area country. This includes all European Union countries and Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
We recommend you scan and make copies of all important documentation, while you should keep all of the information you need – including travel documents and bookings – in a safe and accessible place.
Whilst you’re away
After you’ve arrived at your destination, you will need to keep your wits about you and take simple, effective steps to make sure you remain safe and adhere to any local laws and customs. You will often find the simplest advice stands you in the best stead, so always remember the following:
Listen to friends and fellow travellers – There will be a good reason why someone warns you against going to a certain place or trying a certain activity. Listen to what others recommend or dissuade against, and you will be setting off on the right foot.
Keep an eye on your belongings – There will likely be many occasions you are tempted to leave your belongings unattended, be it in your hotel room, by the side of the pool or on the beach, but you should try to limit this as much as possible. If you do leave any of your possessions somewhere, make sure they are properly locked and stored away or left with somebody reliable.
Keep your money safe – It is not unknown for travellers to be targeted by thieves, so be sure to keep your money safe. A money belt is a great way to keep it about your person. You should consider stashing your money in a couple of separate places so that, if you are unfortunate enough to be targeted, some of your cash may not be stolen. You should also keep your money and cards separate, so if one is lost or stolen you still have the other.
Do not have your goods on show – Most travellers today take with them either a camera or a phone, and often these items are expensive. If you must carry them with you at all times, do not flaunt them and keep them in a secure place.