Where school minibuses are concerned there remains areas of confusion where legal guidelines are open to interpretation. It means some schools and drivers are unwittingly at risk of losing their Section 19 Permit, having vehicles impounded, invalidating their insurance and even prosecution should the worst happen. Chris Maynard of Castle Minibus has been delivering the UK’s only minibus compliance course (MCC) for the past 12 months to educate schools on these potential risk factors. In his opinion it is imperative that a responsible person in every school is educated so that they can identify and manage the level of risk the school’s willing to take moving forward.
Risk factor 1: Operating permits
Not-for-profit schools or those with charitable status can operate their minibuses under Section 19 Permit instead of an operator’s licence if it is not for ‘reward or hire’. Schools need to ensure that they are not profiting from minibus provision or they will need a full Operator’s Licence. In a recent case, in February this year, Deputy Traffic Commissioner John Baker refused to return four impounded minibuses to a school in St Leonards on Sea, when it was discovered they were being used for reward or hire without an Operator’s Licence.
Risk factor 2: Weights and licences
If minibuses are being driven by staff on a standard car licence schools need to be very clear on the weights of these vehicles. The Section 19 Permit guidelines are very clear that vehicles with a MAM (maximum authorised mass) of 3500kg or less can be driven with a car licence – although other conditions do apply. 750kg of additional weight is allowed for specialist equipment only – namely disabled access lifting equipment.
No Minibus manufacturer makes a 17-seat minibus with a MAM of less than 3500kg. So called ‘light-weight’ minibuses are window vans converted to minibuses by coachwork companies. While these vehicles are legal, they may not include heavier safety features such as side impact protection to keep the weight under the 3500kg.
These vehicles are marketed as the minibus you can drive without a D1 but Castle has identified several potential risks schools should consider including the likelihood of over-loading the vehicle, having the right equipment, using inexperienced drivers with no specialist training and the subsequent risk to reputation should the worst happen.
Risk factor 3: Are teachers volunteer drivers?
As mentioned above, under a Section 19 Permit a car licence holder can drive a minibus under 3500kg under certain conditions including;
- you’re driving on a voluntary basis and the minibus is used for social purposes by a non-commercial body www.gov.uk/driving-a-minibus
- they receive no payment or other consideration for driving other than out-of-pocket expenses 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#drivers-of-permit-vehicles
There has never been a test case for this and the definition of ‘voluntary basis, other consideration and social purposes’ are open to interpretation. However, Castle Minibus as well several councils and schools have sought specialist legal advice on this matter with the same definitive response.
Schools need to be aware of this clause in the Section 19 Permit if their staff are driving minibuses without a D1 entitlement.
Risk Factor 4: Minibus checks and safety inspections
Feedback from the 420 schools who have attended Castle’s Minibus Compliance Course is that teachers and school staff feel they don’t have the time to complete minibus checks before every journey and don’t understand the necessity.
It is the school’s responsibility to maintain their vehicles under the Section 19 Permit with regular safety inspections, but drivers need to understand the risks to themselves personally if they are pulled over in a defective vehicle.
Without the required safety inspections and regular vehicles checks schools run the risk of having unsafe vehicles on the public highway and drivers face the risk of fines, points and prosecution.
When RoSPA approved the MCC its inspector told Castle Minibus ‘the most dangerous thing a school can do is take children on the public highway’ and so adequate consideration needs to be given to make operations as safe as possible. School minibus operation is an area of potentially huge risk that most schools have yet to get to grips with. Educating a responsible staff member on a course like Castle’s Minibus Compliance Course is the first step to understanding all the necessary requirements to implement a robust safety system, be legally compliant and assess suggestions of best practice in areas where there is room of interpretation.
For more information on minibus compliance and the MCC visit www.castleminibus.co.uk or call 01869 253744
As seen in the Independent School Magazine October 2019