Volunteering to Drive Miss Daisy

Recently in several Volunteer Calgary training courses there have been discussions on volunteer drivers.  Some organizations are dealing with an aging volunteer driving force that has been in relationship with their organization for many years.  Some have poor volunteer drivers who are major donors.  A touchy subject.  Many factors including age, health issues and vision and hearing deficiencies can affect a person’s driving ability.  However, regardless of age and all the reasons that driving ability may decrease, a volunteer who lacks proper training can seriously affect the safety of those involved and the success of your volunteer driver program.  

How do we assess the level of skill a driver has? 

Are we willing to ask questions that may appear bold to ensure safety and protect our clients, volunteers, staff, board members and organizations? 

Are we willing to say ‘no’ in order that our people remain safe and to avoid lawsuits? 

Questions like this are somewhat beyond ‘polite’ in our culture when delving into a person’s driving ability as it moves into an area of pride for people.  Are we willing to push past this taboo in order to complete due diligence?

Are we willing to reassess drivers regularly after we have accepted them to ensure their level of skill remains adequate?

What are the minimum standards?

What training is your organization prepared to offer to ensure these minimum standards are upheld? 

What screening is being done in terms of driving ability?

What are the consequences if this issue is ignored?

The answers to these questions will vary from organization to organization but warrant a close look if you are engaging volunteers to drive for your organization.

Last month I read an article about an organization that had to seriously reassess their process with volunteer drivers.  This organization held a large event that involved setting up stations along roadways for runners and walkers to stop, get water and check in.  To set up each of the stations required delivery of tables and supplies in a large delivery truck.  The organization’s process previously was to let anyone who had a driver’s license complete this task early in the morning on the day of the event.  Well, this went terribly wrong.  A volunteer who met the one criteria of ‘having a driver’s license’ had never driven a vehicle this big before.  He drove the truck underneath an overpass that was far too low and took off the top of the rental truck.  A very, very expensive lesson. 

It is an individual organization’s responsibility to ensure that their volunteers are properly trained to do the tasks that are requested of them.  Take a moment to assess whether the training you are providing is adequate.  Invite others in your organization to do the same.

A few ideas…

Require proof of a valid driver’s license.

Require a recent driver’s abstract.

Find out if the volunteer has ever had any driver training.  I remember during my drivers test for my class 2 license about half way through the woman asked me if I had been given any driver training when I received my license.  I said that I had, but in had been about 20 years ago.  She said that she could tell.  It was not really a compliment to me, but a bit of a ‘game’ or a ‘study’ she had going as she tested.  She found that people who had any previous professional driver training had certain driving habits and mannerisms that those who had not been professionally trained lacked.  They were better drivers because they (or their parents) had invested in this skill. 

One proactive organization that recently attended VC training has AMA come in to do a classroom course for everyone who will be a volunteer driver for their organization to set expectations and guidelines for drivers when working with their organization.  Great idea.

This made me think about some other ideas on how to ensure quality of drivers for an organization.

How about a ‘test drive’ with volunteers who will be driving for you?  Have someone who is objective and more removed from your organization complete this in order to avoid embarrassment if someone doesn’t ‘pass’.  This could be a periodic volunteer position for someone with some driver’s training background.  (This position fits well for a project volunteer, short term volunteer, or a skills based volunteer opportunity.)

How about a yearly ‘test drive’ to ensure continuing drivers remain at an acceptable skill level? 

Be prepared for the times that someone may not pass the driver’s test and have alternative volunteer opportunities available to them in order to keep them involved in your organization.  Keep the reason for the transition private for your volunteer and let them know that you are doing so.

In some jurisdictions individuals are required to complete a driver’s test each time they renew their license at the five year mark.  This is not the case in Alberta, and we need to make sure we are looking out for our people and our organizations. 

I have provided some food for thought around this issue and I encourage you, if you engage volunteer drivers, to take your thoughts about this to your organizations and begin a conversation. 

~ Diana


About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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