Before you undertake a long journey in any vehicle it’s important that you’ve planned for it and are taking extra precaution. When driving a minibus, the planning must be meticulous due to the number of passengers that you are carrying and the size of the vehicle.

While you can’t eliminate the risk of something going wrong somewhere along the way – that’s driving for you – with proper planning, you’re minimising that risk. So, what does proper planning for a longer journey in a minibus look like?

 

Check that you can legally drive the vehicle

First things first, you need to make sure that your driving licence allows you to legally drive a minibus, without having to undertake additional training.

As we outlined in more detail in a previous article, motorists who passed their test before 1st January 1997 will automatically have the all-important D1 entitlement on their licence.

If you passed after that date, you won’t have the same entitlement – but you can still drive anything from a nine-seater minibus up to a 16-seater providing you meet the following conditions:

  • You’re at least 21 years old
  • You’ve held a driving licence for two years or more
  • You’re driving voluntarily
  • You’re driving for social purposes
  • You’re not charging passengers
  • The minibus doesn’t exceed 3.5 tonnes in weight, or 4.25 tonnes when it’s carrying equipment for disabled passengers like wheelchair ramps
  • You’re not towing a trailer

A car park filled with minibuses

Consider additional training

Even if you do meet all the requirements, it might be worth thinking about taking some additional training before you embark on a long journey.

RoSPA insists that driver assessment and training is essential for anybody that intends on getting behind the wheel of a minibus, especially when the vehicle is carrying children.

The charity puts forward a strong argument for additional training, highlighting how driving a minibus is a very different experience from driving a car.

It’s not just that a minibus is wider, longer, larger and heavier than a car, cornering and braking characteristics are significantly different.

Training will not only get those people unfamiliar with driving a minibus more comfortable behind the wheel, it’ll also provide practical advice on how to deal with passengers. Some passengers may have special needs or become ill over the course of a journey – it’s crucial that a driver knows how to handle such situations.

Training minimises the risk to drivers, passengers and other road users. It also provides reassurance to parents that their children are in safe hands – they could insist that staff are given specific minibus training before they are allowed behind the wheel, and they’d have a good point.

Training will also likely result in lower running and maintenance costs and even reduced minibus insurance premiums.

Finally, it should make drivers more confident about their ability to drive a minibus safely – something that they might be anxious about if they’ve never done it before.

RoSPA recommends that all staff and parents who intend to get behind the wheel of a minibus should receive specific minibus driver training, and preferably hold a PCV D1 licence.

Practical training and assessment is undoubtedly the best way of ensuring that anyone who drives a minibus has the necessary knowledge, understanding, capabilities and attitudes to do so safely.

Minibus driver training typically includes:

  • Familiarisation with the minibus
  • Vehicle checks that must be conducted before and after each journey
  • Emergency procedures
  • Passenger care, including disability awareness (if applicable)
  • Using passenger lifts or ramps (if relevant)
  • Passengers travelling in wheelchairs
  • Appropriate use of seat belts, harnesses and other passenger safety equipment
  • On-road assessments covering the roads likely to be used (for example, motorways or  rural roads)
  • Journey planning
  • Dealing with luggage and equipment

RoSPA provides its own minibus driver training.

A person putting their seatbelt on in the drivers seat of a car

Carry out some pre-departure checks

Nobody wants to find themselves grinding to a halt mid-journey, but especially so when you’ve got a minibus full of passengers. To reduce the risk of breaking down, you need to perform some pre-departure checks on your minibus.

The following checks will only take you about 30 minutes – provided you don’t find any major faults – and will give you that peace of mind that you’ve done everything you can to prevent the minibus failing on you somewhere along the way.

Here’s what to check:

  • Oil level
  • Coolant level
  • Windscreen washer fluid level
  • Brake fluid level
  • Windscreen and windows clean and undamaged
  • Brake lights and indicators are clean and in full working order
  • Tyre pressures are correct, including spares
  • Tyre tread is correct on all wheels, including spares. At least 3mm across centre ¾ is recommended. Any cuts and bulges?

Having performed the exterior checks – making adjustments where required – it’s time to move on to the interior checks, which include:

  • Mirrors correctly adjusted, clean and unobstructed
  • Position and function of all dashboard controls
  • Position of your driver’s seat
  • Pressure on brake pedal
  • Lights and indicators are working
  • Wipers and washers working properly
  • Fuel level (and type of fuel) is sufficient for the journey you’re about to do
  • Seat belts are undamaged and working properly
  • Location of wheel brace and jack
  • Location and contents of first aid kit and fire extinguisher(s)
  • Location of relevant paperwork

Finally, check those all-important brakes. Turn the engine on, then check that the handbrake is doing its job and the brake pedal is firm when pushed.

If safe to do so, perform a moving break test. Traveling at a slow speed – around 15mph – apply the brakes firmly. When the brakes are applied, the minibus should not pull to one side and any luggage should remain secure.

If faults are found, you will need to take steps to remedy them – whether that’s doing the jobs yourself or taking it to a garage.

If you the minibus needs to be booked into a garage for repair, this could cause your trip to be delayed or cancelled. So, it’s sensible to carry out these checks a few days in advance of when you’re scheduled to drive the minibus.

A person checking the tread depth of a vehicle tyre

Plan your route

Once your minibus has been given a clean bill of health, you can get down to the business of planning the journey itself.

If you know the route you’re going to take, you should do a search for roadworks and other events that could delay your journey. Driving a minibus, you also want to avoid narrow lanes, busy town centres and low-hanging bridges, all of which can all turn the trip to your destination into a complete nightmare.

To help make your journey go without a hitch, you might want to pick a sat nav. A motorhome-dedicated sat nav will give you the best route avoiding things like low-hanging bridges and keep you on main roads when possible.

Top-of-the-range sat navs will also redirect you should it pick up that there is traffic on your preferred route. Where a standard sat nav might send you down small country lanes to avoid the congestion, a device dedicated for larger vehicles will offer a more suitable alternative.

Obviously, sat navs are not an essential purchase. If you’re an adept map reader or you know the route like the back of your hand, then you might not feel like you need one.

However, for some people, they can provide reassurance and help them focus on the road ahead. Don’t let the alerts distract you, though and don’t attempt to touch it while you’re driving.

 

Pack essentials

With the journey mapped out, you can now focus on packing the minibus with essentials. Here’s what to pack:

  • Important documents: In addition to your driving licence, ensure you have your minibus insurance details and emergency telephone numbers (recovery service etc.). If your journey takes you onto the continent you’ll need an insurance green card.
  • Road atlas: Even if you’ve decided to purchase a sat nav, you should still take an up-to-date road atlas with you in case technology fails you on your trip!
  • Loose change: Keep some money in the glovebox for toll roads and parking charges.
  • First aid kit: It’s impossible to foresee everything that might go wrong, so keep a first aid kit stowed away somewhere in case you or your passengers require some sort of treatment. Cuts, nosebleeds and allergic reactions are all fairly common. More on what to pack in a first aid kit below.
  • Torch: Most smartphones have a torch in-built into them, but a dedicated torch is easier to hold if you need to look under your minibus or inside the bonnet. Make sure the batteries are working and take some spares just in case.
  • EU registration plate or GB sticker: If you’re travelling in Europe, you will also need to display a GB sticker.

A first aid kit is an essential piece of equipment for your minibus and it’s your duty to make sure that it’s fully stocked at all times. The kit should include:

  • 10 foil packed antiseptic wipes
  • 1 conforming disposable bandage (a minimum of 7.5cm wide)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • A packet of 24 assorted adhesive dressings
  • 3 large sterile unmedicated ambulance dressings (a minimum 15 x 20cm in size)
  • 2 sterile eye pads with attachments
  • 12 assorted safety pins
  • 1 pair of rustproof blunt-ended scissors
  • Disposable gloves
  • Mouth mask for resuscitation

If you need to use the first aid kit for whatever reason during your trip, ensure you make a record of the incident in an accident report book. Regularly check that all items are ‘in date’ and replace any items if they’ve expired.

A portable first aid kit for a vehicle

Share the drive

For particularly long journeys – where tiredness can easily get the better of you – it’s worth considering if there’s anybody available that could share the driving responsibilities with you.

Perhaps there’s somebody in your travelling party who is also legally able to drive the minibus?

Driving for extended periods of time requires a lot of concentration and can make us tired, which if not taken into account, can lead to an accident.

Sharing responsibilities with one or more drivers will allow you to get a nap in and refocus, so that when you do get back behind the wheel you are awake and alert again.

 

Plan regular breaks

If there’s nobody you can share the driving with, you will need to factor some regular breaks to restore your concentration and ward off tiredness. The government’s road safety campaign, Think! recommends taking a 15-minute break every two to three hours.

So, when planning your route, map out which service stations/points of interest you can stop off at along the way.

 

Eliminate distractions

It’s not only tiredness which reduces your concentration levels. The passengers you’re carrying could also prove to be a distraction if they’re not managed appropriately.

If you’re going to be driving a minibus full of children, you might want to consider employing a passenger assistant whose job it is to manage passengers and ensure they’re not proving a distraction to the driver.

Passenger assistants might not be necessary for every journey where children are being transported.

However, it’s advised that a risk assessment is conducted to decide which journeys do not require a passenger assistant, taking into account the age and needs of the passengers on that particular trip.

If you’re driving for a school, they are required to consult with their local authority to see if there are any specific ratios for the number of adult supervisors for off-site trips. The ratio will be determined by things including:

  • The age, gender and ability of the pupils
  • The number of pupils on the trip
  • The number of pupils with special educational or medical needs
  • The amount of risk associated with the trip and its activities

RoSPA recommends that passenger assistants are used when passengers’ needs require a passenger assistant to be present (based on a risk assessment); children are being carried; a passenger’s behaviour has the potential to disrupt the driver.

A person driving a minibus with a passenger assisting

Take out some minibus insurance cover

You’re all set to go! However, in order to drive a minibus legally, you need to ensure you’re covered with minibus insurance.

At Taxi Insurer, we take the time to understand you, your vehicle and what you usually use it for, so we can find the right minibus insurance policy for you, at our most competitive rates.

Call our specialist team today.

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