Under certain circumstances, drivers without a comprehensive minibus licence are permitted to drive a minibus within the UK as long as it is not being used for hire or reward (i.e. passengers aren’t being charged).
As we detailed in a previous article, drivers who passed their test before 1st January 1997 will automatically have the all-important D1 entitlement on their licence.
Those who passed after that date won’t have the same entitlement without sitting an additional test – but they can still drive anything from a nine-seater minibus up to a 16-seater as long as they meet the following conditions:
So, school staff, as long as they meet the above conditions, can drive a minibus carrying up to 16 children.
However, when carrying children in a minibus, it’s crucial that all safety checks are made, minimising the risk of something going wrong.
In this article, we’ll provide some advice on what you should do before children climb aboard the minibus including whether additional driver training is suggested and what you should do in the event of a breakdown.
The following advice comes directly from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA):
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 makes a strong case, pointing out that 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, steering, 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:
RoSPA provides its own minibus driver training.
Anybody working, or wishing to work, with children or vulnerable adults must be vetted.
Schools and other local authority bodies should adhere to their authority’s vetting policies and procedures. Operators who are not attached to a particular authority should follow the parent organisation’s policies and procedures, and check whether their insurer has any special requirements.
Operators should go out of their way to ensure that adequate supervision is provided to all employees and volunteers to prevent anything inappropriate from occurring.
Passenger assistants might not be necessary for every journey where children are being transported.
Short, local journeys to a nearby location, for instance, may be undertaken without a passenger assistant on board.
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.
The group operating the minibus has a duty to ensure that an adequate assessment is made of any potential risks arising from behaviour or of any potentially disruptive passengers.
Based on this assessment, adequate safeguards must be put in place, which might include providing a passenger assistant for the journey.
Schools should consult 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:
A passenger assistant, while not necessary for every journey, can play an important role in supervising younger passengers – ensuring they’re cared for and behave appropriately.
Therefore, when looking for passenger assistants, you need to ensure they’re capable of exercising control over children.
Some of the main responsibilities of a passenger assistant include:
RoSPA recommends that passenger assistants are employed 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.
Passenger assistants will typically sit at the back of the minibus with the passengers, rather than in the front with the driver. That way, they can help to minimise disruption before it becomes a problem.
Getting children to wear their seatbelt at all times can be tricky – but it’s the responsibility of the driver to ensure that they do.
Operators who fail to take all reasonable steps to ensure that every passenger is notified that they are required to wear a seat belt are breaking the law.
The rules are fairly simple: seat belts should be provided on all seats and all passengers should wear their seat belt. Passengers who refuse to wear a seat belt put themselves and other occupants at risk. In the event of an accident, an unrestrained passenger could be thrown about inside the minibus, which could easily injure or kill another passenger or the driver.
As such, operators are encouraged to establish a policy on what the driver should do if a passenger refuses to wear a seatbelt.
Drivers should be given the power to refuse to transport non-compliant passengers. However, the passenger should not be left behind if it is dangerous to do so and never if it’s a child.
Prior to each journey, RoSPA recommends adjusting each seat belt for the wearer to maximise their effectiveness.
We’ve covered what you should do if you break down in a minibus in a previous blog. However, when carrying children, extra vigilance is required.
Here is a six-point guide on what to do if you break down in a minibus when carrying children:
If possible, steer the minibus off the road and onto the verge or into a layby to avoid other traffic.
If the vehicle comes to a stop in the middle of a carriageway, attempts should be made to move it as far as away from moving traffic as possible.
If there is a warning triangle available, then it should be placed on the same side of the road, at least 45 metres from the minibus. Drivers should ensure that there is no danger when placing and retrieving the triangle. Triangles are not suitable for use on a motorway.
Make sure passengers only exit the vehicle on the nearside of the minibus and as far away from traffic as possible.
Don’t let anybody stand behind the minibus or attempt to exit the vehicle via the traffic side. On motorways or other busy roads, passengers should be guided onto the embankment or grass verge and, again, as far from the traffic as possible.
In certain circumstances, it might be safer to keep everyone in the minibus with the hazard lights on.
Passengers should be kept together in one group. Children should be reassured and under constant supervision so they don’t wander off in the confusion of the breakdown.
If necessary, the driver should seek help, leaving the passengers with the passenger assistant. If the driver is the only adult present, they should not leave the children alone.
The driver will need to give the police, or breakdown service, full details of the vehicle’s location, and inform them if children or passengers with mobility problems are being carried.
If possible, someone should call the minibus operator – i.e. the school – to tell them what has happened so they can pass the message onto parents.
Operators should devise a clear procedure for drivers to follow if child passengers are not greeted by a responsible adult or guardian at the end of the journey. Children should never be left to wait for their parents or carers, or to travel home alone.
Once everybody has departed, the driver – or another responsible adult – should conduct a post-trip vehicle check, inside and outside the minibus looking for any visible damage or faults.
Any faults should be reported to the operator as soon as possible. RoSPA recommends that the minibus is placed out of action until all faults are rectified.
During the post-trip vehicle check, any emergency equipment that has been used should be flagged, and any incidents that have occurred during the journey should be reported.
If there are no faults or incidents to report, a driver should be encouraged to make that known rather – it’s a good way of ensuring that the correct checks are being carried out.
To conclude the article, here is a 10-point safety checklist which neatly summarises RoSPA’s advice:
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.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.