To help churches better understand some of the issues involved with volunteer drivers, we talked with Frank Sommerville. He is an attorney and editorial advisor for ChurchLawAndTax.com.
What should you know before allowing volunteers to drive on behalf of the church?
You should ask for their driver’s license number and check their driving record, and then you need to ask for confirmation of insurance. The higher the limits, the better is my philosophy. But you want to make sure that they have at least the minimum coverage the state requires.
In your experience, are churches generally aware of the need to protect themselves when someone is driving a personal vehicle on the church’s behalf?
Many churches assume that if it’s not a church-owned vehicle, then the church has no responsibility. And that’s just a falsehood. Anytime somebody is driving on church business, even as a volunteer, the church has some responsibility. That’s what they don’t realize.
Are their special vehicle licenses volunteers and staff need in order to drive the church van or bus?
No, unless it’s a vehicle larger than a 15-passenger van. Buses require a commercial license. The 15-passenger van is so popular because it’s the largest vehicle that can be driven without a special license. But I would caution against using 15-passenger vans. There are too many risks. They are just too unstable on the road. It’s worth mentioning that federal law prohibits school districts from using them.
What other advice would you give churches when it comes to volunteers who drive for the church?
It’s a good idea to have a transportation policy that covers expectations when it comes to your drivers—both staff and volunteers. Further, if you have volunteers who are going to be driving, say, on a church mission trip, they have to be cleared through the church office beforehand. Again, you’ll run the driver’s license, check on their driving record, and verify their insurance.
What about rented vehicles? Are churches covered through their own insurance plan or through the rental company’s plan?
Some insurance companies have a rider—or add-on provision—that covers driving a rental on church business. But that needs to be verified with your insurance company. Generally, it’s a whole lot more expensive to purchase insurance through the rental agency. So, I don’t recommend doing so, just because I’m not sure that it’s a good financial decision. Again, a church must verify that it is fully covered by its insurance company.
To help make informed decisions about your church’s vehicle insurance needs, see “6 Questions to Assess Vehicle Insurance.” To gain a better understanding of church insurance in general, see the downloadable resource Understanding Church Insurance.