Lightweight minibuses are a contentious issue. On the surface they appear to be the answer to school’s concerns over putting teachers through the D1 licence to drive as they can be driven with a standard B licence, however there are conditions of use for the lightweight and it is in these conditions that schools may find it is not a solution but the cause of more problems and concerns.
You can legally drive a 16-seater minibus with a standard B category licence so long as;
- The driver is over 21
- The driver receives no payment or other consideration for driving – is a volunteer
- The journey is for social purposes only
- The minibus with up to 16 passenger seats has a gross vehicle weight of less than 3.500kg with an extra 750kg allowance for specialised equipment ONLY.
For a school this may seem like an ideal loophole, a way to avoid a D1 licence. However, there are three major issues with this loophole, grey areas such as the definition of staff as volunteers and journeys as social purposes and the gross vehicle weight once you’ve added passengers and luggage.
Can teachers be classed as volunteers, and is the journey for social purposes?
Castle recently launched our Minibus Compliance Course (MCC), during which the question of whether teachers are classed as volunteers when driving outside school hours is frequently raised. The MCC was written in consultation with Beverley Bell, a Senior Traffic Commissioner, who says on this point;
‘In summary the current DVSA view is that if your driver (including teachers who drive) is a volunteer then they can drive a 16-passenger seat minibus if they got their licence after 1997. So, for example, if a teacher CHOOSES to drive a minibus when doing extra duties which they CHOOSE to do but are not required to do in their contract then they can drive the 16-passenger seater minibus.
BUT if they have a contract which states that they are REQUIRED to drive a minibus then they are not a volunteer. An example is if they are a geography teacher and it is part of their contract that they are REQUIRED to take students on an annual geography field trip. The DVSA view is that they are paid for this and are therefore not volunteers and therefore need a full PSV driver licence.’
So, the answer to whether teachers are volunteer drivers or not depends upon the wording of the contract and DVSA opinion. Specifying that they are required to drive the minibus for field trips, sporting fixtures and excursions would mean they are not volunteering and would need a full PSV or D1 licence if the school operates under a Section 19 Permit.
Adding the weight of a black rhino to your minibus
The other grey area of the ‘lightweight’ loophole is weight; namely gross vehicle weight. ‘Lightweight’ minibuses are converted vans and have not come off the factory line in their current condition. They are vans that are then converted to be minibuses. We have previously written about the issues with lightweight minibuses and how they are able to stay under the 3500kg weight limit required by D1 licencing due to not including heavier safety features such as side impact bars which are, surprisingly not a legal requirement. We should be clear that these vehicles are legal and conversion companies are not circumventing the law, however, no factory-built minibus comes in under this weight due to the addition of safety deemed necessary for that size of vehicle.
Specialist equipment for wheelchair access which must stay in the vehicle and cannot be swapped out for luggage or passengers can take the gross weight limit up to 4250kg and the vehicle can still be classified as lightweight.
The Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is the maximum operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer including the vehicle, fuel, driver, passengers and cargo. Therefore, to understand what ‘payload’ you can add, you need to calculate the GVW minus the unladen or kerbside weight (ULW).
So, an empty minibus weight is unchanging, but the payload is variable, depending on your passengers and their luggage or equipment. You need to know the ULW of your vehicle and ensure the payload doesn’t exceed the GVW. We are not aware of any school who calculates and checks the weight of their passengers and cargo before each journey.
If an average 14-year-old boy weighs 59kg and the average adult 68kg, and you’re filling a 17-seater minibus and adding 20 bags at 8kg each, you’re looking at a payload of 1197kg which as it happens, is the weight of an average black rhino. And that’s an average 14-year old boy, not a year 12 or 13 rugby team…
Don’t do the maths: Get the right vehicle
Don’t risk being overweight. There are no savings in buying a lightweight minibus over a factory-built minibus and if you go overweight, you’d be illegal anyway.
Get the right vehicle, and the right licence to drive it either the inherited D1 (101) or a full D1 licence.
Category B driving licence holders
The advice given by the DVSA in July 2019 is as follows;
Holders of category B may drive a small bus which, when laden with the heaviest load which it is constructed to carry, weighs –
a). Not more than 3.5 tonnes, excluding any part of that weight which is attributable to specialised equipment intended for the carriage of disabled passengers, and
b). Not more than 4.25 tonnes otherwise.
(Source: Section 18 of the Transport act 1985, as amended by Schedule 3 to the Driving Licences (Community Driving Licence) Regulations 1996).
What this means;
- If the vehicle is plated at 4.25 tonne then 750kg must be attributable to the specialised equipment. If the vehicle has not been plated at 4.25 tonne then it would still have to adhere to the 3.5 tonne maximum weight.
- The permit holder and/or driver would need to demonstrate clearly that the additional weight is due to the specialised equipment i.e a hydraulic ramp and other fitments to make things easier for the driver and passengers.
- If it seems that the equipment is not used or is not fit for purpose then this would cast doubt that the additional weight is due to specialised equipment for use by disabled passengers
- Should a permit holder have a vehicle plated at 3.5 tonne and wish to increase this in order to have specialised equipment fitted, they should contact the chassis manufacturer. If the weight increase is acceptable the manufacturer will supply a new manufacturer’s plate showing the revised weight.
Vehicle weights, correct licenses and permits along with driver training are all part of the responsibilities schools need to manage when they are running a minibus. This is why Castle Minibus developed and launched the Minibus Compliance Course (MCC) to give legal clarity to schools and provide them with a system to create a safer and compliant minibus policy moving forwards.
For more information on the MCC, dates and venues visit The MCC page on our website or call 01869 253744.