A helping hand for helping hands: Volunteer drivers and auto insurance

Whether driving elderly patients to medical appointments or delivering meals to families in need, volunteer drivers for nonprofit organizations perform a much-needed service for those who don't have their own wheels. Volunteering time to help others a selfless service -- but no good deed goes unpunished for nonprofits if their volunteer drivers cause auto accidents. To avoid any misunderstandings, volunteer drivers and nonprofit organizations must be on the same page when it comes to auto insurance.
Protection for volunteers
Some nonprofits provide vehicles for volunteers to drive while on duty. If that's the case, the nonprofit's commercial auto insurance policy would cover any accidents involving a company-owned vehicle, regardless of who is driving, according to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. That means that volunteers, even though they're not on the nonprofit's payroll, would be covered behind the wheel of the organization's vehicle. Volunteers should make sure they know what a nonprofit's insurance covers. Does it cover only injuries the driver causes to others? Or does it cover the driver's injuries as well?
Many volunteers use their own vehicles. In these cases, they would be covered under their own personal auto insurance policies, rather than by any coverage the nonprofit has, according to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Therefore, volunteer drivers who use their personal vehicles for their duties need to be sure they have, at the very least, enough liability coverage.
Protection for nonprofits

Relying on volunteer drivers can cut costs for nonprofits and enable them to help more people. But these volunteers also expose nonprofits to liability risks and lawsuits. If volunteers are driving company vehicles, the nonprofit's commercial policy would cover any accidents they cause. But what if volunteers are using their own cars? Volunteers might lie about their coverage or simply not have enough.
If a volunteer's personal auto insurance coverage isn't enough to cover damages after an accident, the victims might sue the nonprofit, according to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Therefore, nonprofits might want to consider non-owned vehicle insurance. This type of insurance would cover a nonprofit if anyone working on its behalf causes an accident. It kicks in after any insurance the driver has been exhausted, according to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.
State laws

State laws that protect volunteer drivers and the nonprofits they represent vary. In 2006, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) performed a 50-state survey to evaluate laws for volunteer drivers.
All states, according to NCSL, have laws that protect volunteers in some fashion. Many provide volunteers with immunity from civil liability if they acted in good faith on behalf of an organization. However, some states offer such immunity only to volunteers for government entities -- and some exclude volunteer drivers from immunity.
According to NCSL, some states that do offer protection to volunteer drivers include:
  • Arizona, which requires insurance carriers to extend coverage to nonprofit organizations for the activities of volunteer drivers.
  • California, which prevents auto insurance companies from writing policies that exclude volunteer driving for nonprofit organizations or government agencies.
  • Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut and Minnesota, all of which have laws that either require or allow state agencies to reimburse a volunteer's expenses, including payments for liability insurance.
  • Maine, which prevents insurers from charging customers surcharges if they are volunteer drivers.

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