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Volunteer Driver Programs: Connecting Communities and Improving Lives

Volunteer Driver Programs: Connecting Communities and Improving Lives

Volunteer driver programs are a valuable and heartwarming component of community services. They bring together compassionate individuals who dedicate their time and vehicles to assist those in need of transportation, particularly older adults, special needs individuals, and those with disabilities. In this article, we’ll explore the essence of volunteer driver programs, their historical significance, and their remarkable impact on the lives of many.

Historical Roots of Volunteer Driver Programs

Volunteer driver programs are not a new phenomenon. In fact, their roots date back many decades. One historical example can be found in the Parmly LifePointes Program of Chisago City, Minnesota. This program, founded in 1862 by Swedish immigrants, was established to care for the elderly. In 1905, volunteers organized a volunteer driver program that used sleighs and wagons to transport older adults to the train depot and to church.

While modern volunteer driver programs no longer rely on sleighs and wagons, they continue to serve as a vital transportation resource for older adults, special needs individuals, and those with disabilities. These programs have gained recognition for their role in addressing the transportation needs of these vulnerable populations.

The Significance of Volunteer Driver Programs

Transportation is an essential activity of daily living for people with chronic disabilities, many of whom are older adults. Research indicates that individuals often outlive their ability to drive. On average, men outlive their driving expectancy by 10 years, while women outlive it by 6 years. This means that older adults may become dependent on others or organized transportation services for many years.

Volunteer driver programs are a key part of the “family of transportation services” available to these individuals. The informal “family” includes family members, friends, neighbors, and caregivers, while the formal “family” encompasses public transit, ADA paratransit (for people with disabilities), dial-a-ride and other shuttle services, public or private community transit options, private transit services (taxi, ride-sharing), and volunteer transportation services.

Today, the National Volunteer Transportation Center includes over 700 volunteer driver programs in its database. These programs have been operating for an average of 18 years, providing nearly 5,000,000 one-way rides annually. They involve around 55,000 volunteer drivers, utilize nearly 50,000 volunteer vehicles, cover approximately 60,000,000 miles through volunteer driving trips, contribute over 6,000,000 volunteer driver hours, and are valued at approximately $1,400,000,000. These programs make a significant impact on the communities they serve.

Relevance to the Aging Population

Volunteer driver programs play a vital role in ensuring that older adults can access essential services, particularly healthcare. A study of 2014 STAR Awards applications found that four of the top five destinations identified by applicants were medical transportation: 96% to doctors’ offices, 92% to non-emergency health care centers, 91% to pharmacies, and 80% to dialysis centers. Shopping at 84% completed the top five destinations.

Grantmaker Support for Volunteer Driver Programs

Various grantmakers and organizations have recognized the importance of supporting volunteer driver programs:

  • The Federal Transit Administration offers limited financial resources through programs like New Freedom Funding and the 5310 program. These funds support vehicle acquisition, some operating costs, and mobility management.
  • Local organizations that fund volunteer driver programs include Area Agencies on Aging, hospitals, health providers, philanthropic groups like the United Way and Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, and service organizations such as the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society.
  • Foundations that have funded volunteer driver programs include The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation, the Retirement Research Foundation, the Winter Park Health Foundation, and the Archstone Foundation.

Impact of Volunteer Driver Programs

One of the main contributions of volunteer driver programs is their ability to transport older adults to healthcare services. These programs go beyond transportation and offer assistance to older adults, such as to-the-door, through-the-door, at-the-destination assistance, and help with carrying packages. They can also make multiple stops on a single trip and transport passengers beyond city and county boundaries, which traditional transportation services often cannot provide.

The success of these programs hinges on the volunteers themselves. Volunteers are motivated by their desire to help others and make a meaningful impact. They often serve as drivers for many years, dedicating substantial time to this cause. Their greatest satisfaction comes from knowing they are needed, helping others, and building meaningful connections with passengers. Volunteer driver programs are often referred to as “the hope of the future” in addressing the transportation needs of older adults.


Volunteer driver programs are the unsung heroes of community transportation services. They not only bridge the mobility gap for older adults, special needs individuals, and those with disabilities but also create a sense of community and compassion. These programs rely on dedicated volunteers who contribute their time, vehicles, and empathy to ensure that everyone can access the essential services and connections needed for a fulfilling life. The continued growth and support of volunteer driver programs are essential to the well-being of these vulnerable populations and the communities they serve.

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Mike is a seasoned transportation consultant and technology advocate. Drawing from years of experience in the transportation industry, Mike bridges the gap between innovative software solutions and practical implementation strategies. His articles focus on the transformative power of software for organizations that deliver transportation options for the elderly, special needs and disabled communities. Outside his writing endeavors, Mike enjoys exploring the landscapes of Costa Rica and advocating for sustainable transportation initiatives.