Risk on the Road: Managing Volunteer Driver Exposures

Despite the high cost of gasoline, there is still a great need for volunteer drivers in many nonprofit programs. Whether the drivers are taking seniors to medical appointments or bringing meals or library books to those unable to leave their homes, opportunities abound for volunteers to fill a much-needed gap in transportation services in our communities.

At the Nonprofit Risk Management Center we often field calls from nonprofits concerned that they may be putting either volunteers or their nonprofit at risk because of the inherent danger connected with motor vehicle accidents. However, we are not aware of any study that demonstrates that the use of volunteer drivers is somehow more risky than other activities involving motor vehicles.

One factor that does seem to be an indicator of an increased risk of accidents is that a motor vehicle accident is more likely to occur when the driver is driving an unfamiliar vehicle—an indication that volunteer drivers driving their own cars may be less risky than asking a volunteer to drive an unfamiliar van filled with children for a field trip.

What Insurance Applies When Volunteer Drivers Use the Nonprofit’s Vehicles?

We are also often asked, “Who can drive our vehicles?” The answer is that with the nonprofit’s permission, anyone may use a vehicle owned by the nonprofit. No matter who is driving—employee or volunteer—the nonprofit’s commercial auto insurance policy will apply to any accidents involving vehicles owned by the nonprofit. The policy should be examined closely. A nonprofit’s commercial auto policy has three components: liability, physical damage on the vehicle itself (collision and comprehensive coverages), and medical payments for injuries to occupants of the nonprofit’s vehicle. Nonprofit policy holders should review their policies with their brokers or agents to determine which specific losses are covered and where coverage gaps might lie. For instance, you may assume that your nonprofit’s auto policy would provide coverage in the event a van were stolen, when in fact the coverage may exclude theft completely. The nonprofit’s auto insurance will generally cover all vehicles both owned by the nonprofit. Many nonprofits also have coverage for “non-owned” vehicles (such as those that are leased or rented by the nonprofit or personal vehicles driven on the nonprofits' behalf.)

What Insurance Applies When Volunteers Drive Their Own Cars?

It is important to note that volunteer drivers, while using their own cars, will be covered initially by their own personal auto insurance. A volunteer’s personal auto insurance for his/her own car will cover anyone named in a lawsuit arising out of the use of the personal auto, therefore, the nonprofit may also initially be covered by the volunteer driver’s policy. However, in cases where a catastrophic injury occurs to a passenger or pedestrian when a volunteer driver is using her own car, the damages may exceed the driver’s personal auto insurance limits. In that case, the nonprofit is vulnerable if it is named in a lawsuit resulting from the accident. Moreover, while a nonprofit may assume that a volunteer driver has adequate insurance, that may not be the case. Non-owned auto insurance will also cover the nonprofit if the volunteer driver’s personal auto insurance policy has lapsed or been cancelled. For this reason, many nonprofits purchase non-owned auto liability insurance.

Non-owned auto liability insurance covers liability for accidents caused by an employee or volunteer driving their own vehicle on a nonprofit’s behalf. The coverage is designed to protect only the nonprofit organization, not the employee or volunteer. Coverage applies above the liability limits of the vehicle owner’s personal automobile policy. There is no coverage for damage to the vehicle that is not owned by the nonprofit. To really circle the wagons and close the coverage loop, some carriers will provide an endorsement on non-owned auto policies that add the volunteer who drives his or her own car on the nonprofit’s business as an additional insured under the nonprofit’s non-owned auto policy. This provides coverage in excess of the volunteer’s own policy limits.

Non-owned auto insurance is critical for any nonprofit that uses volunteer drivers who drive their own cars, or those nonprofits that expect employees to use their own cars for work-related transportation.

Does State Law Limit Liability for Volunteer Drivers?

Some state laws limit volunteer liability when volunteers are providing services for tax-exempt charitable organizations, however, exceptions abound. For instance, in many states while there may be protection for volunteers, the protection does not apply when volunteers are operating motor vehicles. In other states, the protection does not apply at all. For a summary of state liability laws relating to volunteer transportation programs, visit the web site of the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Information for State Volunteer Driver Liability Laws.”

What Risk Management Steps Should Be Considered For Volunteer Drivers?

The Nonprofit Risk Management Center is pleased to share some volunteer driver risk management tips published on the web site of its newest satellite program, the Toronto-based Insurance and Liability Resource Centre for Nonprofits. The Resource Centre correctly points out that the more miles volunteers drive, the greater the vulnerability for the nonprofit and its clients to accidents and injury. Additionally, when volunteer drivers are providing transportation to children or vulnerable adults, there are safety considerations that won’t be present when drivers have no passengers in their autos. All these factors should shape the volunteer driver screening process, as well as orientation and training.

Screening volunteer drivers is an important risk management process that demands attention. Nonprofits that use volunteer drivers must determine the level of screening that is appropriate for the role that volunteer drivers will play. For instance, drivers who transport clients, especially minor children, and those transporting multiple clients in vans, should be subject to much more stringent screening, background checking, and supervision, than a volunteer who drives his or her own car to transport equipment to a local park for a “clean up the lake” work day. Ask your broker or agent whether your nonprofit’s commercial auto insurance carrier provides guidance on screening procedures for volunteer drivers. The Center can also provide you with helpful information and practical procedures customized for your volunteer driving program.


Volunteer Driver Pledge Card

As a volunteer for [Name of Nonprofit], I understand that my safety and the safety of others is paramount. I understand that driving as a volunteer is a privilege, not a right and therefore, I agree to:

  1. Provide evidence of my current status as a licensed driver in [insert Name of State]
  2. Comply with all of [Name of Nonprofit]’s policies and procedures and any directions provided by my supervisor;
  3. Comply with all laws and regulations concerning driving, including laws pertaining to the use of seat belts, child safety seats, cell phone use, and speed limits;
  4. Promptly notify my supervisor of any physical conditions, vehicle defects, or road conditions that might affect my safety or the safety of those I am driving;
  5. Notify my supervisor of any traffic citations I receive—even if given while driving on my personal time;
  6. Attend driver training at the request of [Name of Nonprofit];
  7. If involved in an accident, I agree to complete an Accident Report provided by [Name of Nonprofit] and to cooperate with the police, my supervisor, and [Name of Nonprofit]’s insurer, its insurance adjusters and attorneys.

I pledge that if I drive my own vehicle on behalf of [Name of Nonprofit], adequate insurance will always be in force; and I also understand that as a volunteer driver, the limits and coverages provided by my personal automobile insurance are applicable to any accidents or incidents that involve my vehicle, including those that occur while I am serving as a volunteer driver for [Name of Nonprofit].



  • If the volunteer will be driving his/her own vehicle, the nonprofit should also obtain a copy of the volunteer’s current auto insurance policy and vehicle registration.

The Nonprofit Risk Management Center is available to assist your nonprofit with the development of appropriate policies and guidelines for your volunteer driving program. For further resources and answers to your questions, contact us!

Consider using a Volunteer Driver Pledge such as this one to manage your volunteer drivers’ expectations and enlist their cooperation for a safe transportation program.

In addition to screening and supervision, here are some straightforward “Smart Tips” that every nonprofit can take to manage the risk that an unprepared driver will be behind the wheel.

  • Identify a Driving Program “Supervisor” or Coordinator to assign and, if necessary, terminate volunteer drivers. This person will have to enforce policies and procedures, put together training sessions, conduct spot checks by phone or in person, carry out annual evaluations as your program grows and develops, and make important decisions such as when to cancel a volunteer’s driving duties due to inclement weather. Click here for other ideas provided by the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre for how to use a “Volunteer Driving Supervisor.”
  • Screening. Basic core qualifications for volunteer drivers need to be determined to ensure that inexperienced drivers are disqualified and that every driver provides proof of a valid license and up-to-date vehicle registration. A formal orientation and training program should be required for all volunteer drivers, and the nonprofit needs to determine which driving infractions will disqualify a volunteer, and whether a formal driving records check is required for eligibility to volunteer. Click here for a comprehensive list of screening procedures suggested by the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre.
  • Create Guidelines for Conduct. There are a host of issues that should be addressed with volunteers, such how and whether they are responsible for assisting clients in and out of vehicles, whether they should be alone with clients, and how many passengers may be transported at one time. Click here for ideas provided by the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre for what might be included in Guidelines for Volunteer Drivers.
  • Volunteer Driver Pledge Form. Having volunteers sign a pledge form that spells out exactly whose insurance is responsible and that the volunteer agrees to maintain his/her vehicle in good condition can go along way to protecting the nonprofit as well as managing the expectations and guiding the prudent conduct of volunteers. Click here for an excellent list compiled by the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre of issues to consider including in such a form. A sample Pledge Form is reprinted at right.
  • Educate volunteers about their own insurance limitations and coverages, as well as the limitations of the nonprofit’s coverage. Enlist the help of your broker or agent to outline what the nonprofit’s own auto insurance does and does not cover and make sure to manage volunteer drivers’ expectations about what the nonprofit’s insurance does—and does not—cover.
  • Incident and Accident response. Volunteers need to know what emergency procedures to follow if there is an accident while they are driving on behalf of the nonprofit and simple procedures for keeping themselves and any passengers, as safe as possible. Click here for suggestions from the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre.
  • Other volunteer driver program suggestions, such as how to monitor and evaluate driver safety are also available from the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre’s website.

If all this sounds overwhelming, it need not be. There are resources available to help nonprofits design effective volunteer transportation programs, including the nonprofit’s own insurance professionals. Additionally, staff at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center can provide an objective assessment of risks associated with your nonprofit’s transportation activities, and review the nonprofit’s auto insurance program, or help your staff determine what policies will most effectively protect all involved.

The Center is grateful to David Szerlip of David Szerlip and Associates, an insurance specialist serving the nonprofit social service community, for assistance with this article.

May/June 2008 Risk Management Essentials