Originally, such drivers were often personal employees of the vehicle owner, but this has changed to specialist chauffeur service companies or individual drivers that provide both driver and vehicle for hire. Some service companies merely provide the driver.
The term chauffeur comes from the French term for stoker because the earliest automobiles, like their railroad and sea vessel counterparts, were steam-powered and required the driver to stoke the engine. Early petrol/gasoline-powered motor cars, before the advent of electric ignition, were ignited by 'hot tubes' in the cylinder head which had to be pre-heated before the engine would start. Hence the term chauffeur which, in this context, means something like "heater-upper". The chauffeur would prime the hot tubes at the start of a journey, after which the natural compression cycle of the engine would keep them at the correct temperature. The chauffeur also maintained the car, including routine maintenance and cleaning, and had to be a skilled mechanic to deal with breakdowns and tyre punctures en route, which were very common in the earliest years of the automobile.
Only the very wealthy could afford the first automobiles, and they generally employed chauffeurs rather than driving themselves. A 1906 article in The New York Times reported that "the chauffeur problem to-day is one of the most serious that the automobilist has to deal with", and complained that "young men of no particular ability, who have been earning from $10 to $12 a week, are suddenly elevated to salaried positions paying from $25 to $50" and recommended the re-training of existing coach drivers.
While the term may refer to anybody who drives for a living, it usually implies a driver of an elegant passenger vehicle such as a horse-drawn carriage, luxury sedan, motor coach, or especially a limousine; those who operate buses or non-passenger vehicles are generally referred to as "drivers". In some countries, particularly developing nations where a ready supply of labor ensures that even the middle classes can afford domestic staff and among the wealthy, the chauffeur may simply be called the "driver".
People currently sometimes employ chauffeurs full-time to drive themselves in their own personal vehicles, yet there are also professional services offering limousines or rental cars driven by chauffeurs. This is very similar to but much more luxurious than taking a taxicab. A variety of benefits are cited for using chauffeurs, including convenience, productivity and time savings, and driving safety for business people and seniors. Insurance costs for luxury vehicles are often lower if the designated driver is a chauffeur.
The legal requirements to be a chauffeur vary depending on the local jurisdiction and class of vehicle. In some cases, a simple permit is all that is required, but in others an additional professional license is needed with certain minimum standards in areas such as: age, health, driving experience, criminal record, local geographic knowledge, training attended.
In addition to the minimum legal requirements, limousine companies often require their chauffeurs to undergo specific extra training. These courses may involve evasive driving or defensive driving techniques, the proper methods to ensure safety in the most extreme conditions such as inclement weather, a flat tire at high speeds, or other exterior influences for loss of vehicular control, etc. Most companies also have their own courses as to what they expect from their chauffeurs. Chauffeurs may be taught proper etiquette for use when they are in presence of their clientele. They may also be trained for services to the client beyond the car itself, such as for a personal valet or bodyguard. Many companies and local licensing agencies currently require random drug screening – in the United States this was especially the case after professional ice hockey player Vladimir Konstantinov's career-ending injuries when his recently hired chauffeur, Richard Gnida, lost control of their limousine and crashed.
In many places (or at times in the past), proper physical presence is presented by the chauffeur at all times. This usually includes a well-groomed individual, conservatively dressed in a clean and crisply pressed black or dark business suit or tuxedo, dress shirt, and appropriately matching tie, with black leather gloves and freshly polished matching footwear. In some areas, such as Japan, white gloves are the norm. Some companies have complete uniforms for their chauffeurs, and some require that hats be worn as part of the uniform.
- William Grover-Williams, chauffeur to William Orpen
- Julius Schreck, chauffeur to Adolf Hitler from 1926 to 1936
- Kay Summersby, chauffeuse to Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Roosevelt Zanders, drove Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and many others
- Aloysius "Nosey" Parker
- Thomas Watkins
- Driving Miss Daisy: 1987 play, 1989 film, and 2014 film
- Frank Martin, driver in The Transporter series of films
- Bitterman (Ted Ross), chauffeur for Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore) in the 1981 film Arthur
- Tom Branson, chauffeur turned son-in-law of Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey
- Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's tireless valet, assistant, butler, chauffeur, confidant, best friend, and surrogate father figure
- Logan in Logan
- Kato the chauffeur and assistant to The Green Hornet
- "Objects to "Chauffeur"" (PDF). The New York Times. 22 January 1902. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
...but it simply means what we call "fireman", or what the English call "stoker"...
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- Villano, Matt (September 17, 2007). "A Chauffeur Role That Tries Harder". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
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- Becker, Mark (1 November 1998). "Operators Abroad Attempt to Establish Uniformity in Chauffeur Training". Limousine, Charter, and Tour Magazine. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
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- Windsor, Shawn (6 October 2007). "2007's Top Wings Stories: Remembering the crash that ruined Stanley Cup celebration". Freep.com. Gannett. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011.
Thirty-two laws took effect in 1999 amid mounting evidence that thousands of people with suspended or revoked licenses were driving, despite numerous alcohol-related convictions and serious traffic violations.
- "Ex-Wings Limo Driver Arrested". CBS News. Associated Press. July 2, 1999. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
- Thomas Jr., Robert McG. (25 May 1995). "Roosevelt S. Zanders, Stars' Chauffeur, Dies at 81". The New York Times. p. 8. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
- Palm, Matthew J. (January 21, 2021). "In 'Daisy,' Michael Morman's in the driver's seat again". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
- Bauer, Patricia (December 17, 2017). "Driving Miss Daisy: Plot, Cast, Awards, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
- Media related to Chauffeurs at Wikimedia Commons