When thinking about minibuses most schools and organisations assume their only option is a 17-seat minibus, but there are other options available to schools, such as the 9, 12 and 14-seat minibuses from Ford. Having the right licence for each minibus is always a concern to schools and so in this blog we’re going through the licence requirements for different sized vehicles.

A minibus with 8 passenger seats or less is considered a car and so can be driven on a standard car licence, and doesn’t need a Section 19 Permit. After that, it is not about the number of seats, but the GVW (gross vehicle weight) of the vehicle. D1 entitlement is needed to drive a minibus with a GVW over 3.5 tonnes (4.25 tonnes with specialist equipment).

‘Unfortunately, although the law may sometimes seem clear on weights and licences, there are conditions that are open to interpretation. Schools and organisations therefore must decide how to interpret them, and we recommend take specialist legal advice, once they understand the issues involved. We have sought expert and legal advice over the years and have distilled that advice into our best practice recommendations; it’s the safest way forward where the law is unclear. The most important thing to remember is whatever vehicle is being driven, safety is paramount.’ Chris Maynard, MD Castle Minibus

What the DVSA says about minibuses and licences

There are two types of licence that you can drive a (9-16 passenger seat) minibus on, depending on the vehicle weight and the driver. The Department of Transport’s guidance on Section 19 Permits states that drivers with a D1 entitlement, those who passed their test before 1 January 1997 may drive a small bus, not used for hire or reward, of any weight used under the permit. There is no restriction on them receiving payment.

Drivers who passed their car test on or after 1 January 1997, without a D1 entitlement, can only drive a small bus if all the following conditions are met:

  • they have held a full category B car licence for at least 2 years
  • they receive no payment or other consideration for driving other than out-of-pocket expenses
  • the vehicle has a maximum gross vehicle weight not exceeding 3.5 tonnes, plus up to 750kgs only for specialised equipment for the carriage of disabled passengers to ensure that they payload remains the same. This does not include ramps.
  • for drivers aged 70 or over, that they don’t have any medical conditions which would disqualify them from eligibility for a D1 licence
  • no trailer is being towed
  • where the driver’s licence only authorises the driving of vehicles with automatic transmission, and only a vehicle with automatic transmission is used.

What does this mean for smaller vehicles?

It would appear from the above that a vehicle with a MAM (maximum authorised mass) of 3.5 tonnes or under can be driven on a standard B car licence. Therefore, some schools are opting for a smaller minibus that carries fewer passengers so their staff can drive it on a standard B car licence.

Are your staff driving for no payment or no other consideration?

This question has never been tested in court, but the expert legal advice sought by Castle Minibus and County Councils such as Hertfordshire, has been crystal clear; that teachers and school staff are driving on behalf of their employer and so this is for payment. Looking for favourable recognition such as a promotion by ‘volunteering’ to drive on school trips could be deemed ‘other consideration’ too. So, to avoid this grey area, Castle’s recommendation is not to allow staff to drive school minibuses that carry more than 8 passengers without a D1 entitlement. Incidentally, this has been the law in the other 27 countries in the European Union since 1997.

Same licence and safety considerations whatever the size vehicle

It might seem that a smaller minibus would require less consideration in terms of training, which may make some vehicles more attractive to schools wanting to avoid the costs of D1 driver training. However, this might not be the case depending on the interpretation of ‘payment and other consideration’. There is a risk that it might be decided in court that your driver, as they were driving for their employer ‘voluntarily’ were still driving for ‘payment or other consideration’ which could invalidate your insurance as well.

The NASUWAT teacher’s Union states ‘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’.

Whatever size or weight of minibus you’re driving, the same considerations for your drivers should apply;

Know your weights: Driving an overweight vehicle is dangerous whatever licence you hold, so make sure you know your GWV and maximum payloads (how much additional weight you can add to an empty minibus before it exceeds its GVW or MAM Maximum Authorised Mass). It’s especially important to know your weight if you’re driving without a D1 entitlement. Read our article on the importance of weights here.

Check licences: It is important to regularly check your driver’s licences to see if any new penalty points or additional restrictions have been added.

Eyesight and medical tests: Regardless of the entitlement driver’s hold on their licence, regular eyesight and medical checks will help reduce risks.

Continual training: Those who take a full D1 test complete both a theory and practical test, those with a D1 (101) inherited entitlement and Standard B car licences will also benefit from ongoing training whether MiDAS, online assessments and training, or a practical driving assessment.

Every school should have a robust minibus safety system that includes policies and procedures of minibus and driver management. Those responsible need to ensure they understand the compliance and legal issues surrounding licences and permits so they can make informed decisions on what size minibus is best for their school and what training they require for their staff.

For more information on minibus compliance, you can call our friendly team on 01869 253744 or email compliance@castleminibus.co.uk