Featured in the May edition of The Independent Schools Magazine. We share the research and opinions of various authorities on whether teachers/school staff need D1 entitlement to drive a 8+ seater minibus, regardless of weight.

There is ambiguity surrounding the guidance, but the legal advice we, and others, have received is crystal clear; teachers ARE driving for payment or other consideration because they are driving for their employer, so they need D1 entitlement.

If you are driving minibuses on a standard B car licence, then please read this article and if you’re not sure about your drivers or vehicles please seek legal advice. As we say in the article – don’t rely on commercial advice.

Why the law changed in 1997

The UK was the only EU country that made exceptions to needing a D1 to drive a minibus when the law was changed in 1997, following a tragic school minibus accident in 1993 that killed 11 pupils and their teacher. D1 entitlement was no-longer included on a licence issued after 1 January 1997. The UK made an exception to needing D1 entitlement to ‘protect’ the voluntary sector and introduced the Section 19 Permit, to regulate this sector.

Organisations, including schools, that have charitable status or are not-for-profit and run their minibus operation at cost, can apply for a Section 19 Permit which means they don’t have to have an Operator’s Licence and drivers aren’t required to have the full D1 entitlement and CPC to drive, even though they can be paid to drive.

Some drivers will have the inherited D1 (101) entitlement but drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 will not, they will hold what is known as the standard category B car licence.

To allow the voluntary sector to drive minibuses without a D1 entitlement, the Section 19 Permit guidelines state ‘Category B entitles them to drive a small bus but only if all of the following conditions are met:

1.      they have held a full category B car licence for at least 2 years

2.      they receive no payment or other consideration for driving other than out-of-pocket expenses

3.      the vehicle has a maximum gross weight not exceeding 3.5 tonnes (4.25 tonnes including specialised equipment for the carriage of disabled passengers)

4.      for drivers aged 70 or over, that they don’t have any medical conditions which would disqualify them from eligibility for a D1 licence

5.      no trailer is being towed

6.      where the driver’s licence only authorises the driving of vehicles with automatic transmission, that only a vehicle with automatic transmission is used’

(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)

Vehicles under 3500kg

There are minibuses on the market that are under 3500kg. They are commonly known as light-weight minibuses. These vehicles leave the factory as a van and are converted into minibuses. Schools need to be aware that to keep the weights down some safety features such as side impact bars and more robust seats may have been excluded. There is no 17-seater minibus that leaves the factory as minibus that is under 3500kg. These vehicles appeared on the market so schools could avoid putting their staff through a D1 licence.

Relying on the weight of the vehicle to drive on a standard B licence means schools need to be sure they understand the weights of their vehicles, their allowances and what payload will take them over weight.

Are teachers/school staff driving minibuses doing so for no payment or other consideration?

One of the conditions under the Section 19 Permit for driving on a category B licence (as well as vehicle weight) is ‘they receive no payment or other consideration for driving’

Are teachers/school staff who are driving minibuses doing so for ‘no payment or other consideration’. The government gives no definitive answer on this matter. This is the issue that schools driving minibuses on a B car licence need to be aware of, and seek advice for clarification.

Who says teachers need a D1?

Castle Minibus, have investigated this issue with various governing bodies and county councils and sought legal advice based on our research detailed below, we therefore recommend that teachers and school staff do not drive without D1 entitlement.

County Councils who have sought specialist legal advice require teachers to have a D1 entitlement

Hertfordshire County Council states:

‘If you drive for your employer, your licence must include category D1.

This includes teachers and school staff, during the school day or out of hours. That’s because you’re at work, being paid and your journeys are official business.

There is an exemption for volunteers without D1 on their licence. However, our legal advice is that this exemption does not apply to teachers and school staff.’

https://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/services/highways-roads-and-pavements/speed-awareness-and-driver-training/minibuses-in-hertfordshire/minibuses-in-hertfordshire.aspx#DynamicJumpMenuManager_1_Anchor_4

Northumberland County Council

‘We insist that all drivers employed by Northumberland County Council hold category D1 minibus entitlement on their driving licence. Although there are circumstances where the law allows drivers in the voluntary sector to drive on a car licence (category B), the Freight Transport Association advise that the exemption does not apply to school teachers nor anyone else driving in the course of their paid employment. This is regardless of whether their contract of employment requires them to drive.

http://northumberlandeducation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/School-Minibus-Advice-and-Guidance-1.pdf

NASWUT National Union of Teachers

‘Whether a teacher may be deemed to be driving a minibus for hire and reward because they are being paid a salary as a teacher is unclear, and advice on this point is contradictory, except in Northern Ireland.

The NASUWT strongly asserts that, particularly but not exclusively due to the ambiguity around the hire/reward status, the full D1 licence is the minimum requirement, and a car licence is insufficient in all circumstances. If schools wish to train minibus drivers to D1 level, the costs of any training and testing for the D1 licence must be covered in full by the employer.’

https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/advice/health-safety/minibus-guidance.html

Northern Ireland require teachers to hold a D1 and DQC (Driver Qualification Card)

In April 2018 Northern Ireland published its guidance on licence requirements for minibuses, ‘to explain the law as it is intended’. The UK has not followed suit, but it is an indication that when the issue is examined properly by the UK government the outcome is likely to be the same.

‘Drivers who drive buses as an incidental part of their employment, drivers such as teachers, health workers, and caretakers who drive buses as part of their employment are deemed to be paid drivers. These drivers need a full D1 licence. This requirement applies whether or not they are full time drivers or casual drivers. In all likelihood anyone driving during their hours of employment, for their employer, where they are responsible for the passengers in their care and subject to disciplinary procedures would be viewed as driving as a consequence of their employment.’

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Driver-Licensing-Requirements-for-Minibuses-April-2018.PDF

In Summary

This issue, concludes Chris, has never been tested in court and there is ambiguity surrounding teacher’s status as volunteer drivers, driving without reward, payment or other consideration.

As a business we are doing what we can to educate schools on minibus compliance with online and face to face training so they are aware of the issues and can make informed decisions. It has never been more important for schools to create a robust safety system for their minibuses, as increasingly we are hearing about the DVSA and police pulling minibuses over to check permits, licences and vehicles.

I urge schools to check their permits are valid, that they are fulfilling all their obligations under the Section 19 Permit and that they are confident their drivers are holding the right licences.

Our best practice recommendation is that, regardless of minibus weights, all school staff driving 8 or more passengers need D1 entitlement. But, please do not rely on commercial advice; if there is any doubt then either adopt best practice to eliminate all risk or seek specialist legal advice.