Behind-the-wheel volunteerism could cost you more than your time. According to existing state law, auto insurers are allowed to raise rates on volunteer drivers the same way they charge taxi drivers.
Facing the threat of inflated insurance premiums or, worse yet, the potential for discontinued coverage, many would-be volunteer drivers have become fearful of involvement in supplemental transportation programs (STPs). Forty percent of STPs report troubles with driver indemnification, the primary hurdle facing self-funded, community-based transportation programs.
"As far as I know, there is no legal responsibility for me to tell my insurance provider," said Betsy, a volunteer driver whose last name is being omitted to protect her from insurance repercussions. "But if there was a claim, who knows? I'm frankly a little bit nervous about that."
AARP Florida believes programs like Independent Transportation Networks (ITNs), such as the one Betsy volunteers for in the Orlando area, provide part of the solution to a host of mobility challenges facing seniors as they age. With the number of Americans age 65 and older set to double over the next 25 years, swelling to an estimated 70 million, viable mobility options are a pressing need. Flexible and cost-effective transit services prolong independence for the aging population.
Across the country, generous people like Betsy have seen their premiums increased—sometimes by hundreds of dollars a year—or coverage dropped after their auto insurers learned of their volunteerism.
For STPs such as ITNOrlando to survive and flourish, volunteer drivers must be adequately protected. That's why AARP Florida believes, when it comes to insurance, a distinction must be drawn between volunteer drivers and taxi drivers.
Just how important are community-based transportation programs to their riders?
"This service gives me a great measure of independence," said Winter Park resident Rita Levy, who in October 2006 became ITNOrlando's first-ever rider. "I live in a senior community, so I can get rides to the doctor and to dentist appointments. But what about when I want to go to the mall to do some shopping? That's where ITN comes in. It's a great idea."
If you think volunteer drivers are important to senior mobility, please contact your Florida lawmaker and urge him or her to support proposals this year to stop insurers from charging volunteers more to provide rides.
- Community Mobility Options: The Older Person's Interest
Research on transportation alternatives for seniors
- Florida's Volunteers: The Driving Force For Senior Mobility
Winter Park Health Foundation brochure
- Mobility for the Aging Population
From the American Public Transportation Association
- Enhancing Mobility Options for Older Americans
American Public Transportation Association report