I think it's nuanced and different for different kids, different ages. I wouldn't be comfortable driving an 11 year old home if I'd only ever met them in passing at little league. I would be a little upset if a parent drove my kid home without contacting me. However, I'd rather a relatively unknown mom drive my kid home, over a male coach. Sorry, not pleasant, I know. Not going to apologize for it, though.
What should happen is for someone to contact me and ask if I'm on my way or if I've arranged a ride for my kid. And if I'm on my way but running late, yes, I would appreciate it if an adult, male or female, would hang until I get there.
And yes, it's thoroughly annoying to go pick my kid up only to find some well meaning parent has taken my kid home. That happened once, and I was angry and frustrated, but biting my tongue because this person had done a nice thing for me. How difficult is it to call me?
Yea, it's an interesting contradiction for me in that we don't do the whole "stranger danger" thing a la Gavin DeBeckam but I'm still attached to the "don't get in the car with a stranger". That's probably because my parents weren't into stranger danger either...and, yet, had these rules about taking rides. AND...also because I certainly am not afraid of strangers as an adult and, yet, when I look back on the times that I've taken rides from strangers, I think of that as a sort of stupid decision (despite the fact that they all turned out fine). For me, I guess, there is something unique about car-rides.
Gavin DeBecker makes two really important points, that can seem like they're at odds. One, Society as a whole needs to prioritize 'acquaintance danger' way ahead of stranger danger, as on average that's where most danger lies. However, he says we, women especially, need to listen to and trust our internal alarm bells, whether it's with acquaintances or strangers. One-Girl's experience can't be denied. My own particular emphasis, don't put being polite and afraid of disappointing people, even complete strangers, ahead of your gut feelings. We can teach our kids, and ourselves, to politely but firmly shut down people who are making us uncomfortable.
I guess I'm just saying that we shouldn't apologize for being hung up on turning our kids safety over to unknown adults.
That said, my 13 y.o. daughter delighted in offering to give her middle school friends rides home, and then ask me if I would do it. These girls were complete strangers to me. I always required them to call a parent and ask for permission. They always said yes. I don't know that I would have done the same.