Managing the Risk of Church-Owned Vehicles

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For a variety of reasons, it often makes sense for a church to own cars and vans for the use of its staff and volunteers. In addition to the practical advantages of having a designated vehicle for church business, ownership may be a less expensive way to control insurance costs. When evaluating whether owning a vehicle is the right choice for your church, it’s important to take into account not just the financial costs—insurance, maintenance, and gas—but also the steps required to manage the church’s risks.

For an organization, vehicle risks go beyond the obvious: accident liability. But church leaders should not assume that an accident involving a church-owned vehicle will be the same as one involving a private car. Although some circumstances might justify placing liability for an accident with the driver alone—for example, if the driver was not authorized to drive the vehicle—in many cases the church itself will be responsible for damages caused by its driver. The church may also be responsible for things like traffic violations and speeding tickets.

Naturally, a church needs to carry liability for each of its vehicles. Insurance programs for institutional vehicles tend to impose specific rules about when coverage will apply, and when it won’t. For example, a policy may only cover drivers who are at least 25 years old. Whether the church’s auto policy requires it or not, a church should adopt a vehicle use policy that codifies the insurer’s requirements and limitations.

Some of the things that a vehicle use might include are:

  • Specific requirements that vehicles be used only for church business.
  • A protocol for checking keys in and out, with a record kept of drivers’ names.
  • A process for verifying that drivers have valid licenses.
  • A process for confirming that drivers have not been convicted of serious offenses, like drunk driving.
  • A training program for anyone who will operate an unusual vehicle like a large passenger van.
  • In appropriate cases, waivers of liability.

The Church Law Center of California works with churches and secular nonprofits. Helping clients manage their risk is a big part of what we do. If your church is considering acquiring vehicles or already has vehicles but could use a stronger set of policies, give us a call. We can be reached at (949) 689-0437 or reached through our contact page.

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