Profit determines whether you need an Operator’s licence (O licence) or Section 19 Permit

The difference between needing a PSV O Licence or operating under a Section 19 Permit is the commercial element. If you are a not-for-profit school or have charitable status and do not benefit financially from your minibus operations, then you can operate under a Section 19 Permit.

If your school operates under an O licence, issued by the traffic commissioner, you are required to appoint a qualified transport manager and your drivers must have full D1 entitlement, tachographs in their vehicles and CPC training; there must be systems in place to check licences, health, driving ability and knowledge.

A former senior traffic commissioner described the Section 19 Permit as a ‘badge of trust’, because you are still required to make sure that your minibuses are operated within the law, with vehicles being properly maintained and using drivers with the appropriate qualifications[1]. But, Section 19 Permit holders do not come under the same scrutiny as O licence holders.

So, are non-professional drivers as safe?

The obvious answer is no, in fact the opposite could be argued. However, you can still pay your drivers under a Section 19 Permit, but they are not required to meet the same standards as with an O licence. Again, the only difference is whether you run your minibuses for profit. The drivers, the vehicles, routes, children, parents, and therefore the risks – are all the same.

How can schools operating under a Section 19 Permit check, protect and evidence the care of their drivers?

There are some very effective ways to assess, train and evidence that you are looking after your drivers and vehicles which will also help protect your school should the worst happen.

  1. Regular eyesight checks

Gaining D1 entitlement involves an eye sight test and medical, Currently we see around 10% of candidates fail the eye test so, statistically 10% of your drivers could have inadequate vision. The road safety group GEM just released figures claiming eyesight is linked to more than 3000 fatal and serious injury collisions each year.[2] It is important to complete an eyesight check with your drivers at least once a year (can they read a car number plate from 20 metres).

  1. Tiredness can kill

It was tiredness that caused the M40 minibus crash in 1993 that killed 12 pupils and their teacher. Without a tachograph there is no way to restrict drivers’ hours, so schools need to ensure they have policies in place and are planning trips with sufficient breaks for their drivers, before as well as during a trip. Health checks to detect underlying issues like Obstructive Sleep Apnoea are also important as it is estimated 4% of men and 2% of women suffer, increasing the risk of a fatal accident.[3]

  1. Driving ability and risks

Your school’s minibus drivers may hold a standard B car licence, have D1 (101) entitlement or have taken the D1 test. It is important that you are assessing their driving knowledge and abilities regularly. MiDAS is recommended every four years but in the intervening years you can measure risk using proven online tools. CODA. Castle’s online driver assessment program enables schools to test their drivers online in four key areas. They are then categorised high, low or medium risk. There are four online training modules to complete, on-the-road training is recommended for high risk results. This easily accessible tool enables schools to evidence they are assessing their drivers regularly and providing additional ongoing training.

  1. Licence checks

Checking your drivers’ licences for entitlement, endorsements or restrictions will ensure you are aware of any issues or prosecutions. It will also give you insight into whether they should be wearing glasses to drive.

  1. Pre-journey vehicle checks

A Section 19 Permit does specifically require regular (daily) vehicle checks. Your drivers may feel this is not their responsibility and assume that if they are pulled over in a defective vehicle the school is liable. In fact, it is the driver (and potentially the school) . They could receive points and fines for driving an unroadworthy vehicle. Using a free and easy app like STRIDA (School Transport Record and Inspection Dashboard with App) will not only allow teachers/staff to complete quick daily checks, protecting themselves, but enable schools to record and manage these checks and their results.

We are staggered daily at Castle Minibus by the number of schools that don’t understand their obligations under a Section 19 Permit. It’s why we developed the Minibus Compliance Course and continue to develop and launch software and programs that make safety and compliance accessible to schools. It’s easy to concentrate on what is heavily regulated and take less notice of areas, like minibuses, that are not currently in the spotlight or obviously regulated. But, it’s important to remember that drivers of your precious cargo need to be not only legal but safe, and you should be evidencing this. Our Minibus Compliance Course has a whole section dedicated to the driver because they are your biggest risk factor – your vehicles are subject to daily and weekly checks, 10 -week safety inspections, services and MOTs. What checks are in place for your drivers?

For more information or your feedback to this article please contact enquiries@castleminibus.co.uk, visit www.castleminibus.co.uk or call 01869 253744

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/section-19-and-22-permits-not-for-profit-passenger-transport/section-19-and-22-permits-not-for-profit-passenger-transport

[2]https://www.fleetnews.co.uk/news/latest-fleet-news/2019/10/15/driver-eyesight-tests-long-out-of-date

[3] http://www.brake.org.uk/wake-up/15-facts-a-resources/facts/486-sleep-apnoea

By Chris Maynard. Managing Director of Castle Minibus for the March 2020 issue of Independent Schools Magazine ) page 22