Local Jewish agencies are supporting legislation that would prevent car insurance companies from canceling policies or raising rates for volunteer drivers.
The bipartisan bill now working its way through committees in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly is aimed at encouraging more volunteers to drive senior citizens and others without means of transportation to medical appointments, social events, and other activities.
Although there is little evidence that insurance companies penalize volunteer drivers, a recent survey suggests that the mere fear of such actions keeps drivers from volunteering.
The survey was conducted in June by the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, and the Center for Non-Profits.
According to the study, more than half the 134 nonprofit groups that responded “have difficulty in recruiting or retaining volunteer drivers due to volunteers’ fears of an unwanted impact on their auto insurance coverage if they engage in such activity.”
Although some Jewish communal agencies do not use volunteer drivers as a matter of concern over liability in case of accidents, many of their executives believe that situation could change if the bill passes.
A new law could possibly add to the number of volunteers who drive clients of the Jewish Family Services Agency of Central New Jersey
“We have used volunteer drivers but most of the drivers we use now are paid,” said executive director Tom Beck “We do insure our volunteer drivers who may pick someone up for a Café Europa program or another activity at the agency.”
“The myriad social service agencies operated by Jewish communities throughout New Jersey rely heavily on volunteers in fulfilling their mission — and one of the key needs has been in securing transportation for populations in need, particularly seniors,” said Ruth Cole, president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations.
“This is a big problem,” said Grace Egan, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, which took the lead in conducting the transportation survey. “People aren’t driving meals-on-wheels, they aren’t driving Polly Sue to the doctor, they aren’t picking up Uncle Marvin and bringing him to his poker game, because they are concerned about their insurance protection.”
“We want to make sure that volunteers understand it is not a barrier,” she told NJJN.
Prime sponsors of the legislation are Assembly Members Ronald Dancer (R-Dist. 30) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37) and State Sens. Robert Gordon (D-Dist. 38) and Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30).