Many insurance companies and agents do not currently differentiate between a person using their car for a volunteer assignment or those earning income driving for a ride-hailing service. Here are three ways independent agents can help clarify that issue.
Ever since the advent of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, many personal auto insurance customers who use their vehicles in volunteer assignments have found themselves victims of mistaken identity.
The problem lies in the fact that many insurance companies writing personal auto coverage—and the agents who represent them—do not differentiate between a customer who's earning income driving for a ride-hailing service and a customer who uses their vehicle in volunteer assignments.
Those companies have either refused to confirm that a claim would be covered if the customer caused an accident while on a volunteer assignment, placed arbitrary restrictions on how often the customer may drive as a volunteer, or placed an explicit exclusion on the policy regarding volunteer activity.
Many personal auto customers who sometimes use their vehicles in volunteer assignments for nonprofit organizations are being told that a liability claim might not be covered if the accident happens during the volunteer assignment. Or, they're told that the policy might be canceled or nonrenewed if the volunteer activity continues.
There is no clarity or consistency on this subject and, as an insurance professional, the last thing we want is uncertainty regarding coverage. If an agent's answer to a customer's question is anything but a straight answer, you can almost hear the foundation of trust cracking.
The uncertainty is happening at a time when the population is aging and there is increased demand for volunteer-based transportation to serve older adults who can no longer drive or those with disabilities who cannot access other modes of transportation. And it is happening in the absence of any evidence that volunteer-related driving increases the risk that a personal auto customer will cause an accident.
Concerned about these developments, the AARP Public Policy Institute released the study “Volunteer Driver Insurance In the Age of Ridehailing." The report offers policy recommendations for the insurance industry and state legislatures to clear the way and make sure volunteer drivers and their clients can travel without worrying about drivers' liability issues. The report also points out ways insurance companies and agents need to do better with enabling their clients to serve their communities.
If the insurance industry does not bring clarity to the issue, state legislatures might. Maine already has a law protecting insurance customers from adverse action if they use their vehicles in volunteer work. Legislatures in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Minnesota, among other states, are also considering similar action.
How can independent agents help resolve this issue? Here are three ways to clear the fog:
1) Understand. Read the AARP study to see how the insurance companies you represent responded to the researchers' questions.
2) Educate. Compare personal auto policies of the insurance companies you represent. Have discussions with underwriters and other insurance professionals about the mistaken-identity problem.
Point out that “ride-sharing"—such as carpooling and volunteer driving—and “ride-hailing"—such as Uber and Lyft—are not the same thing. Make the case that a livery exclusion should never apply to the use of a vehicle for volunteer assignments, even if the driver is reimbursed for expenses, which some nonprofit organizations provide to help with recruitment and retention.
In asking for clarity, don't settle for the old “it all depends on the circumstances of the claim" dodge. Do what you can to clear away the fog.
3) Act. Identify companies that do not discriminate against customers who use their vehicles part of the time in much-needed volunteer service in their communities and place your personal auto business with those companies.
William Henry is a consultant with Volunteers Insurance Service Association, Inc. Helen Kerschner is transportation director of Shepherds Centers of America and former director of the National Volunteer Transportation Center and the Beverly Foundation.
If you know of carriers who provide coverage for volunteers under their PAP, consider reaching out to the authors of this article to let them know. They'd love the opportunity to highlight them, and you, as you help insurance customers who volunteer in communities throughout America.