Own, rent, borrow, or charter. What you need to learn about your church’s liability.

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From retreats and youth trips to a rapid run to the bank, many of the regular activities performed at your religious organization consist of some form of automobile transportation. Oftentimes, the vehicles used are not owned by the congregation but by its volunteers and employees.

Karen Metz, casualty claims manager for Church Mutual Insurance Company, stressed the value of good vehicle maintenance, safe driving practices and proper insurance coverage for all vehicles, not only those owned by the congregation.

Choosing a safe driver
“Choosing qualified drivers is important to passenger and driver safety,” Metz said. Church Mutual offers guidelines to assist with the driver selection process.

Look at the following qualifying measures when choosing a driver:
Attitude.
Age (minimum age of 25 is recommended).
Driving record (Church Mutual customers are eligible to run a Department of Motor Vehicle check through ChoicePoint® for $3.50).
Experience (check driver references).
Physical condition.
If the job requires driving a bus or large van)
Possession of a commercial driver’s license and experience operating larger vehicles (.

“Verify that all drivers have a valid driver’s license and personal insurance,” Metz said. “Produce a copy of each license and the personal insurance policy or insurance card to keep on file.”

Good driving practices.
Even the best drivers are susceptible to accident-causing issues like distraction and fatigue while driving.

“Driver fatigue is a becoming trend in many of our automobile accident claims,” Metz said. “Road trips are sometimes too lengthy for one driver, or the driver might be sleep deprived. Multiple qualified drivers should be offered on long road trips to switch drivers when necessary.

“We also deal with many claims with driver distraction as the cause,” she said.

Take a few minutes to arrange and safely stow items before the trip begins and refrain from using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. Familiarize yourself with a new, borrowed, or rented vehicle; locate the lights, windshield wipers, defroster, fan switch, and other equipment prior to beginning your trip.

Vehicle maintenance.

All vehicles should be assessed by the driver before each trip. Establish a regular maintenance routine that includes the following:
Exterior vehicle check: Look under the vehicle for fluid leaks; check the engine for loose wires, belts and connections; check oil, washer and coolant fluid levels; check battery; check tires for wear and air pressure and secure wheel lugs; check lights and mirrors.
Interior vehicle check: Listen for unusual engine noises; check all gauges and warning lights; check fans, defrosters, vents, wipers, washers; check all seat belts and check brakes.

A semiannual examination by a qualified mechanic also should be part of your vehicle maintenance program.

Proper use of passenger vans.
Many religious organizations use 15-passenger vans to transport large groups. This type of vehicle is at greater risk for accidents. Passenger vans are especially prone to rollovers, with most accidents caused by tire blowouts.

“People have an inaccurate sense of security when they are driving or riding in a large van– they feel protected by the size,” Metz said. “Vans are harder to handle, they are often overloaded, they roll over easily and people generally don’t have experience driving them.”

Church Mutual encourages worship centers take the following precautions when using passenger vans:
Inspect the vehicle, pay close attention to tire condition.
Select drivers with experience operating large vehicles.
Don’t overload the van.
Always fill the front rows of the seats first, leaving open seats in the rear.
Buckle up.
Obey posted speed limits.

Hired and non owned automobile insurance.

Most religious organizations have appropriate automobile coverage for vehicles they own, however their coverage might fall short when volunteers or employees use personal, rented or borrowed vehicles for worship center business. Adding Hired and Non owned Automobile Liability Insurance to your multi-peril policy helps protect your worship center in the event of an accident involving a hired or no owned automobile.

Hired automobile: Any vehicle loaned to your organization, leased, or rented by your organization or used under contract by your organization.
Non owned automobile: Any vehicle that is being used on your congregation’s behalf for business and is registered to one of the insured’s clergy, volunteers, or employees.

“In the event of an accident involving the personal car of a worship center employee or volunteer, the automobile owner’s insurance begins first as the primary policy to cover the damages,” Metz said. “Oftentimes, people only carry the minimum limit for their personal insurance, which generally will not completely cover the damages. Worship centers need to have excess coverage or a hired and non owned policy in place to cover the remainder of the damages.”

Take note, a business automobile policy your organization might have does not contain coverage for vehicles the organization does not own.

Pastor Terry Carney of Prince of Peace Christian Church in Tomahawk, Wis., realizes the importance of excess coverage firsthand. During a recent winter youth trip, a group from the church was traveling using vehicles owned by church members. Weather was a factor during the trip, causing one driver to lose control of the vehicle, cross the centerline and strike another vehicle.

“The accident resulted in the deaths of two children from our parish, as well as multiple injuries to passengers and drivers in the cars involved,” Carney said. “Our church would have been ravaged financially by this tragic event if it wasn’t for our hired and no owned insurance policy.”

“You don’t expect this sort of tragedy will ever happen to your parish,” he said. “For that reason, it is essential for all religious organizations to have this sort of excess coverage– it not only protected the assets of our church, but my personal assets as well.”

Insurance coverage on rental cars.

Insurance coverage from a rental car company is optional. If you opt to use your personal insurance coverage, review your policy to determine if loss and damage are covered for rental cars. If the rented vehicle is involved in an accident, the renter will be charged a fee for each day the damaged vehicle is unusable, along with covering the damage costs to the vehicle.

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