Getting out and about can enhance the learning experience for students and many educational establishments now have minibuses to help transport both students and equipment.
But getting out and about safely – and in a way which complies with the law – is essential.
The Community Transport Association (CTA) is a UK-wide charity which wants to see the voluntary sector thrive, enabling people to live independently, participate in their community and to access education, employment, health and other services.
The CTA advocates high standards of practice and provides advice, information, training and hands-on support that assists community transport operators in working to these standards.
The CTA’s UK-wide advice service is partly funded by the Department for Transport and by the Welsh Assembly. Amanda Howard is part of the advice team which regularly deals with technical and legal enquiries, including those from schools, colleges and universities that are using minibuses to provide transport for their pupils and students.
Here Amanda writes about the legal framework as it affects schools, colleges and other educational establishments.
The legal requirements of operating a minibus (a vehicle capable of carrying 9 to 16 passengers in addition to the driver) are far more complex than most people realise. Who can drive the minibus? Can the driver be paid? What happens when students and parents contribute towards transport costs? These are some of the regular questions the CTA is asked.
Below we will summarise some of the important legal issues you may need to consider and signpost you to more information on the implications of running a minibus.
Who can drive the minibus? In the UK, drivers passing their car driving tests also gain an entitlement to drive a minibus – a situation at odds with the rest of the EU, where drivers have to take an additional test to gain a Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) entitlement. The UK’s approach has resulted in minibuses being a common sight, used by a wide range of organisations such as charities, local authorities, community groups and, of course, educational establishments.
Car drivers passing their driving test before January 1st 1997 gained a category D1 (101) ‘not for hire and reward’ entitlement that allows them to drive a minibus of any weight and be paid whilst doing so.
From January 1st 1997, the UK harmonized its driver licensing entitlements with those of other member states in the EU, with the result that UK drivers passing their driving test from this date gain just a B entitlement (car) and can only drive a minibus if they are able to meet certain requirements, as follows. The driver must have held a full category B entitlement for an aggregate of at least two years.
The driver must receive no payment or other consideration for driving the vehicle other than out-of-pocket expenses. The vehicle must weigh no more than 3500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) or 4250kg if adapted to carry disabled passengers. There must be no trailer of any weight attached. And the driver must be aged 21 or over, but under 70 (unless driver has passed PCV Medical and gained either code 120 or code 79 (NFHR)).
For many organisations, particularly schools, the second requirement raised doubts as to whether or not a paid teacher, with only a category B entitlement gained from January 1st 1997, could meet this criterion when driving a minibus. With increasing numbers of younger teachers entering the profession and in the absence of any case law, the question “Who is going to drive the school minibus in the future?” is a common one on the CTA advice line.
New guidelines After reviewing the matter and in an effort to resolve the situation, in August 2013, the Department for Transport (DfT), Department for Education (DfE) & Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued guidelines for teachers and school employees who undertake incidental minibus driving and who passed their B entitlement on or after 1 January 1997. This guidance is available on the Gov.uk website www.gov.uk/government/publications/driving-school-minibuses-advice-for-s.... The guidance comes with a health warning in that it isn’t legal advice, nor is it a ruling on the law.
The basis of the guidance is that so long as teachers and school employees don’t have any driving duties in their job description, do not receive any extra pay as a result of driving and cannot be compelled to drive, they are allowed to claim to meet the volunteer requirement above. Staff who gained their car driving licence from January 1 1997 are then able to drive the school minibus as long as they meet all of the other criteria set out for new drivers as shown above.
The guidance does highly recommend the Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme (MiDAS) which covers driver assessment and training which will help mitigate the risks to staff and pupils. The guidance also states that drivers will feel more confident in their ability to drive and valuable experience of driving a minibus is gained, increasing competence. Some employers may require drivers to have taken this training and some insurance companies may offer lower premiums based on drivers having completed the training.
For more details on this guidance and further information on gaining PCV driving licences, please call the CTA (details below).
Minibus Weight Holding only a full category B licence, restricting the driver to a minibus weighing no more than 3500kg MAM or 4250kg for a minibus adapted for carrying passengers with a disability, means many of the new 16 passenger seat minibuses available today are too heavy.
Minibus weights have risen in recent years due to improvements in engines to reduce pollution, as well as stronger crash-protection structures. This has necessitated using smaller minibuses with a reduced passenger capacity to keep within the weight limits.
Educational establishments are recommended to pay particular attention to the weight of new and replacement minibuses or they could find that some of their staff may not be able to drive them. If they do drive a minibus without the correct entitlement on their licence, they could invalidate the school’s insurance and both the driver and the school/college could face prosecution. The gross vehicle weight should be displayed on a chassis plate usually fixed in the driver/passenger footwell or located under the bonnet in the engine compartment.
Driver Training Driving a minibus with up to sixteen passengers on board is a very different proposition to driving a car. It is for this reason that a number of organisations, including local authorities, provide minibus familiarisation training for non-PCV trained drivers and it is essential that teachers and others receive such training before they drive a minibus, to help ensure the safety of their passengers and other road users.
The Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme (MiDAS) provides a structured programme for the assessment and training of drivers. Further information can be found on the CTA’s website at www.ctauk.org.
Operator Licensing Having discussed the licence that the driver requires, we now need to consider whether or not the school/college requires some form of operator’s licence as well. To determine this, we need to establish whether or not ‘hire and reward’ exists. Any payment (including not-for-profit) that gives a passenger the right to be carried is classed as being for hire and reward; the payment can be direct (such as a fare, e.g. a contribution towards the transport costs of a school trip) or indirect, such as with the payment of tuition fees or donations to school funds. It is hire and reward that triggers the need for an operator’s licence. However, a school/college will be eligible to operate minibuses under the permit regime below, providing they are a non-commercial organisation and are not operating the transport for a profit.
Section 19 Standard Permits Section 19 permits (10B permits in Northern Ireland) are in effect an operator’s licence that provides a legal framework to allow eligible bodies, including education establishments, to operate minibuses for hire and reward on a not-for-profit basis, and be driven by drivers who do not hold a PCV D1 driving licence. Operating a minibus without a permit could invalidate the vehicle’s insurance cover and could also result in a school or college risking prosecution for operating an unlicensed Public Service Vehicle (PSV). The teacher driving could also face prosecution, because without the legal protection the permit provides, they would need to have a PCV D1 entitlement.
Section 19 and 10B permits are straight forward to obtain. The CTA provides support to its members in applying for permits and is authorised to issue them for a nominal fee. Section 19 Standard permits last up to five years. The permit also comes with a disc that must be displayed on the vehicle’s windscreen.
Commercially-operated schools and colleges running minibus transport will need to operate with a PSV Operator’s licence (only issued by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), previously known as the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), and all drivers will be required to hold a full PCV D1 entitlement and a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC), which as stated earlier can only be obtained by passing a second test in a minibus.
Covering everything a person might need to know about permits would fill a book, but the main points are that if you are eligible to hold one – that is, if you are a non-commercial body concerned with education, operating a minibus for ‘hire and reward’ as defined above – you need one. Give the CTA a call or email us and we can provide you with all you need to know.
What else do you need to know? By becoming involved in the Community Transport Association and the MiDAS training and assessment programme, you will be able to learn and understand all aspects of operating a minibus legally and safely – including drivers’ hours, seat belt rules, maintenance schedules and MOT testing, driver licence checks, the need for passenger assistants, taking a minibus to Europe, and school bus signs.
Membership of the CTA gives access via the members’ area on our web site to preferential rates for minibus insurance, discounts on training and events, and access to information and guidance about operating safe and legal transport, together with the latest news from other not-for-profit transport operators.
To accompany this feature, the CTA has produced a leaflet “Frequently Asked Questions for Schools, Colleges and Universities operating minibuses”; this can be downloaded for free from www.ctauk.org. You can also download other leaflets on the topics above.
The CTA is pre-eminent in the field of advising non-commercial organisations using minibuses and MPVs, to carry passengers. Many educational establishments have become members of the CTA for advice and guidance, the issuing of Section 19 permits, cheaper insurance and other member benefits. The CTA has recently focused its attention of how it can better meet the needs of schools and colleges with the introduction of the Safe and Legal Education Transport Network, with CTA membership costing only £49 a year.
FURTHER INFORMATION For legal or technical enquiries, call 0845 130 6195 or email firstname.lastname@example.org