Fact Sheet

Programs Featuring Transportation

One of the leading causes of injuries to staff and volunteers — and of lawsuits filed against nonprofit organizations — is vehicular accidents. Such risks exist whenever a car, truck, bus or other vehicle is used on behalf of a nonprofit organization. To ensure the safety of its staff and volunteers — as well as service-recipients — a nonprofit must ensure that operators of vehicles used in the course of the agency’s operations are properly licensed, follow safety precautions, and are adequately trained to drive the kind of vehicle used on behalf of the organization.

Screen Drivers

There are several options available to nonprofits for screening drivers. First, ask to see the applicant’s driver’s license and photocopy the front and back for your files. This inspection will verify that the individual has a valid license and identifies any driving restrictions. One screening option is to ask the driver to complete and sign a questionnaire concerning his or her driving record (moving and other violations), record of accidents, personal auto insurance, qualifications to operate different kinds of vehicles, drivers’ training received and any medications that may impair driving ability.

The application should also require that the driver certify the truthfulness of all statements on the form and acknowledge that false statements on the application will constitute grounds for immediate dismissal from the staff or volunteer assignment. The prospective driver should also agree to adhere to the safety policies established by the nonprofit and to inform the organization of any moving violations or at-fault accidents that occur during the driver’s tenure with the nonprofit.

The use of a detailed questionnaire or application form will raise awareness among prospective drivers that safety is a concern for the organization. Organizations may also include questions about driving habits when checking personal references, since these people may have been passengers in cars driven by the prospective driver.

Before undertaking any screening of prospective drivers, the nonprofit organization should establish the criteria by which prospective drivers will be deemed eligible or ineligible for driving assignments. What specific offenses automatically disqualify an applicant from serving as a driver for your nonprofit? Some agencies will disqualify an applicant with more than two moving violations and one at-fault accident, while others adopt minimum standards that are more or less strict. Due to the corollary between driving experience and accident frequency, most nonprofits prohibit the use of teenage drivers or anyone who has not had a license for a minimum number of years.

A growing number of nonprofits verify the information provided by applicants through the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records. If your agency decides to check driving records, you must inform all applicants that questionnaire information is subject to verification through the department of motor vehicles. DMV records are available at relatively low cost (usually $10 or less in most states). Some nonprofits require that prospective applicants obtain a motor vehicle report and bring the report to their interview for a volunteer position. Seeking to minimize the inconvenience and expense to prospective volunteers and recognizing the long waits at many DMV offices, other nonprofits use a service to obtain motor vehicle reports on prospective drivers. In some cases, your automobile insurance carrier may agree to obtain DMV checks on your drivers as a service to your agency.

While screening prospective drivers is an important part of your transportation safety program, screening is not a panacea for vehicular-related risks. Furthermore, the use of an applicant questionnaire and one-time records check does not constitute a comprehensive screening process. The most effective approach will require periodic re-checks of motor vehicle records (such as every two or three years).

Establish Driving Policies

Your nonprofit organization should establish acceptable limitations for vehicle use, and protect against unauthorized use. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, your organization’s driving policy should state:

Guidelines should be in place to determine when a staff member or volunteer may drive on behalf of the organization. Consider:

Driver policies can guide staff decision making, establish standard conduct and operational consistency, and support unpleasant, but necessary, requirements. Put your driver policy in writing — this is the first step. Written policies can be included in your organization’s personnel and volunteer manuals and posted on a bulletin board. Written policies can be referred to as needed. Select someone to be responsible for the driver program — give him or her the power and authority to enforce organizational policies, encourage safe behavior, answer questions, and keep abreast of new ideas and technologies. A prior-to-use approval process, regardless of who owns the vehicle and who is driving, will prevent spontaneous, and possibly risky, trips.

What can your nonprofit do to ensure the safety of its staff and volunteers when driving on behalf of the organization?

Maximizing Vehicle Safety

Vehicle Selection

Driving policies and driver screening are only part of a driver safety plan — vehicle year and type also have safety implications. Your organization’s policies and procedures should address nonprofit-owned vehicles, as well as any personal vehicles that may be used. Vehicle selection should be based on your specific program and use. For example:

When selecting a vehicle, consider the expected use, safety features and safety performance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety compares vehicle safety features and performance — from small subcompacts to large utility vehicles and vans. Based on expected use, you can target the types of vehicles that can safely meet your needs. Information about the crashworthiness of vehicles by make and model is available on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Web site.

Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance

Every organization should monitor and control vehicle maintenance and repair. The following suggestions can enhance the safety of the vehicles used.

Special Consideration: 15-Passenger Vans

Many community organizations, churches and schools own 15-passenger vans. These vehicles have seating for a driver and 14 passengers. While widely recognized as “passenger vans,” most people don’t realize that they started life as cargo vans, which have been equipped with rows of seats. Although likely to have seatbelts, the vehicles lack the many safety features required for buses. In fact, it is dangerous to use these vehicles as buses.

Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recently prompted two safety advisory warnings about 15-passenger vans. This is primarily because the risk of a rollover crash is greatly increased when 10 or more people ride in these vehicles. If overloaded the rollover rate is six-to-seven times more likely! This occurs because the vehicle has a high center of gravity and as more passengers are seated the van becomes less resistant to rollover. Additional weight raises the vehicle’s center of gravity and causes it to shift rearward, making for very dangerous handling characteristics, particularly in emergency situations. Of course, placing any load on the roof also accentuates the rollover danger. Because of the rollover characteristics and risk of legal liability, it is becoming increasingly more difficult and costly to insure these vehicles.

NHTSA has issued a brochure entitled Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans. You can download a copy at their Web site.

The following recommendations for 15-passenger vans are made by NHTSA:

Transporting Children, Seniors, or Disabled Service Recipients

Use proper lifting technique when lifting younger children into and out of vehicles.

It is advisable to have a second adult in the van when transporting children to moderate any unruly behavior so the driver can maintain full attention on driving conditions.

When assisting service recipients into and out of wheelchairs, staff and volunteers need to know how to set the brakes on the wheelchairs, how to place the footrests, where to hold the service recipient, and how to lift without injuring the service recipient or themselves.

Drivers may need special training in how to operate wheelchair lift vans.

Young Drivers

Employers who have young drivers driving on behalf of the organization should:

Older Drivers

Employers who have older drivers driving on behalf of the organization should:

Special Consideration: Cell Phone Use and Distracted Driving

No preventive measures have been developed specifically for workers because research is lacking on cell phone use during work-related driving. However, preventive measures for the general driving public are also relevant to the workplace and are recommended for workers by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

It is recommended that employers:


Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths From Traffic-Related Motor Vehicle Crashes, NIOSH

Insurance Institutes for Highway Safety

Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans, NHTSA

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Work-related Roadway Crashes — Challenges and Opportunities for Preventing Crashes Involving Young Drivers

Online DMV

National Motorists Association

Smart Motorist, Inc.