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.
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:
- Use seat belts at all times. Let other workers ride with you only when the vehicle has a seat belt for each person.
- Always drive within the speed limit.
- Do not drive if you are fatigued.
- Be familiar with the maintenance procedures for all vehicle systems.
- Communicate to staff and volunteers that a violation of the organization’s driver safety policy is as serious as (and has similar consequences to) a violation of safety policy on the organization’s premises.
Guidelines should be in place to determine when a staff member or volunteer may drive on behalf of the organization. Consider:
- Is the trip necessary and, if so, who approves the trip?
- When must a trip be postponed because of driving conditions (e.g., rush hour, wet road conditions, insufficient time and others)?
- What is the safest possible route (e.g., avoid pedestrian and automobile traffic, left-hand turns, and unpaved roads)?
- How to prepare the driver adequately (e.g., route preparation, chaperones, or use of a spotter for backing assistance)?
- How can you reduce driving distractions (e.g., prohibiting map reading or shaving while driving, limiting telephone use to emergencies, and disallowing travel with pets)?
- Are special safety precautions necessary for longer trips?
- What vehicles are safe and appropriate for the trip?
- Under what circumstances should the driver take passengers?
- If an exception to policy is necessary, who makes the decision?
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?
- Prevent driving by unsafe drivers (e.g., staff who are recently licensed, emotionally immature or physically unfit, or actually known to be dangerous drivers).
- Use a probationary period. New staff members may be overwhelmed with a lot of information at the same time. You may want to prohibit any driving for the first three months.
- Make sure that the person is legally licensed to drive the type of vehicle to be used and that the license is not restricted. Copy the license for your files.
- Before the trip, review the organization’s safety policies with the driver and require compliance with all policies and procedures.
- Limit the driver to his or her personal car to ensure familiarity with vehicle features.
- Note, and minimize the effect of, any weather conditions, time limitations, distractions, or other factors that might affect driver safety.
- Determine whether you are bound by any legal restrictions or conditions. Some states may impose special restrictions on teenage or elderly drivers.
Maximizing Vehicle Safety
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:
- Motorcycles and bicycles can be difficult for other drivers to see, offer minimal protection in an accident, are difficult to handle (especially in bad weather), and have little “cargo” room.
- Buses, trucks, and other large vehicles may be too difficult to maneuver and require special licensing and training that the nonprofit may not be able to afford.
- Older vehicles lack the safety features found in late model cars — anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, and/or air bags.
- Unfamiliar vehicles may be dangerous in an emergency (e.g., someone accustomed to a heavy sedan with anti-lock brakes that is stable in rain may not be able to control a subcompact car safely if it hydroplanes).
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.
- Make sure the automobile is fit to travel. Verify that all required warranty and maintenance service has been completed. Make sure appropriate emergency equipment (e.g., telephone, first aid kit, jumper cables and flares) are in the trunk before departure.
- Initial Document Review. The driver should review the owner’s manual and any reports concerning the vehicle and should familiarize him/herself with the vehicle features.
- Initial Vehicle Inspection. The driver or a local mechanic should inspect the vehicle to guarantee that it is in good working order.
- Concluding Vehicle Inspection. At the end of each day, the driver should note the mileage, the number of passengers during the day, any mechanical problems or breakdowns, and any maintenance or repair expenditures (including gas) in a report.
- Other Maintenance and Inspection. Check alignment and inspection; rotate the tires and replace as necessary; check the exhaust system for leaks and make appropriate repairs; and replace oil and air filters, valves, belts, bolts, pads, and spark plugs, as needed.
- Documentation. Retain all service records and incident reports.
- Audit and Review. Periodically review all records. Ensure that problems were resolved. Verify compliance with the vehicle’s service plan.
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:
- Carry fewer than 10 occupants.
- Load occupants from front to back.
- Require seatbelt use for each occupant.
- Do not load anything on the roof.
- Van drivers should be well rested.
- Drive cautiously (maintain a speed that is safe under the conditions, and be especially careful on rural and curved roads).
- Inspect tires monthly to check for wear and proper inflation, to reduce the risk of a blowout.
- If the van’s wheels drop off the roadway, gradually reduce speed and steer back onto the road when it is safe to do so.
- Only use drivers who have received specific training on the use of 15-passenger vans. Options include a van driver certification course offered by the National Safety Council. This should be repeated every three years.
- Keep the van’s gas tank as full as possible.
- Drive at or below the speed limit.
- Look twice, ahead, behind, and to both sides before proceeding from a stop. Your view is restricted in these vans, especially with passengers.
- If you are taking a longer trip (more than two hours) with young adults or older children, it is advisable to have a second adult in the van to moderate any unruly behavior so the driver can maintain full attention on driving conditions.
- Volunteers should practice driving with the van prior to driving on trips.
- The goal of a trip is not to get to your destination, but to get there alive.
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.
Employers who have young drivers driving on behalf of the organization should:
- Ensure that young workers who are assigned to drive on the job have a valid state driver’s license.
- Require successful completion of a state-approved driver education course (where state laws provide for such courses) and require that the worker have a driving record free of any moving violations at the time of hire. For young workers who have not completed a driver education course, expedite their enrollment in driver training courses offered to all employees.
- Set policy according to state graduated driver licensing laws (particularly restrictions on night driving and the number of teen passengers) so that company operations do not place young workers in violation of these laws.
- Keep a driving log to ensure that young drivers do not exceed the maximum number of hours that may be driven. Even if the employer is not covered under Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the provisions of this act nonetheless provide useful guidance for appropriate assignment of driving tasks to young workers.
- Assign driving-related tasks to young drivers in an incremental fashion, beginning with limited driving responsibilities and ending with unrestricted assignments. This recommendation extends to young drivers aged 18 or older who are still in the process of acquiring driving skills and experience — not just to those under age 18 who are covered by FLSA.
- Strictly enforce policies that require workers to wear safety belts in all vehicles (drivers and passengers). Since adolescents and young adults are less likely than older adults to wear safety belts, be particularly vigilant about enforcing safety belt use in this worker population.
- Provide supervised performance-based training, especially for young workers who are expected to operate specialized vehicles or equipment.
- Look for driver training programs that address hazard perception skills that may be lacking in young drivers.
Employers who have older drivers driving on behalf of the organization should:
- Offer periodic screening of vision and general physical health for all workers for whom driving is a primary job duty. Consider increasing the frequency of screening for workers aged 65 and older, but make sure that any such policy ensures fair treatment of all workers.
- Base decisions to restrict driving for older workers on assessments of actual driving ability — not solely on general medical screening or on an arbitrary age limit.
- If a worker’s ability to drive on the job is impaired temporarily or permanently, make every effort to accommodate that worker to other job duties if he or she is able to perform them.
- Consider providing vehicles with features that may ease the driving task and decrease the risk of crashes and injuries among older workers. Such vehicle features include power steering and brakes, automatic transmission, clean and properly adjusted headlights, side air bags, and new technology such as crash-avoidance systems and night vision-enhancement systems. However, employers should be alert to the potentially negative effects of new technology, as older drivers may find it difficult and stressful to adjust to new aspects of vehicle operation.
- Consider offering training sessions in which a skilled observer or driving instructor provides feedback on driving performance.
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:
- Avoid placing or taking cell phone calls while operating a motor vehicle, especially in inclement weather, unfamiliar areas, or heavy traffic.
- Place calls from a stopped vehicle if at all possible.
- Allow a passenger, not the driver, to handle phone calls if possible. Alternatively, allow incoming calls to roll over to voice mail.
- Be aware of any local regulations governing cell phone use.
- Avoid other activities such as eating, drinking, or adjusting noncritical vehicle controls while driving.
It is recommended that employers:
- Avoid pressuring workers to routinely conduct business on a cell phone while driving.
- Monitor workers’ crash experience related to the use of cell phones, in-vehicle Internet, and other work-related technologies available for vehicles.
- Modify company policies on use of these technologies while driving if safety concerns demand it.
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
National Motorists Association
Smart Motorist, Inc.