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School Minibuses - A Safety Guide

Minibuses are a valuable asset to those schools which are fortunate enough to own or have use of one. They allow pupils access to the many benefits of out-of-school activities. Driving a minibus is not, however, a task to be undertaken lightly - the safety of pupils and staff should always be the first consideration.

The Driver's Responsibilities 

If you volunteer to drive a school minibus you are personally responsible for its roadworthiness. If any defects are found by the police, it is you who will be fined, points on your licence, or even prosecuted. You would also be responsible for any road traffic offences committed. You should make sure that the minibus insurance policy covers:

•    all the uses to which the minibus is put
•    the total number of passengers allowed and the total weight
•    all the people allowed to drive the minibus.

Comprehensive cover is required to ensure that you are not liable for any damage which you may cause to the minibus itself, as well as to other vehicles.

Safety Checks On Schools

If you drive a minibus you are personally responsible for any defects it may have while it is on the road. For this reason, it is essential that there is a proper vehicle maintenance system in operation and that certain basic checks are made before each journey begins.

Unless you are absolutely confident that a designated member of staff has undertaken an adequate pre-drive check you should do it yourself. The attached checklist lists the checks that should be made.

If your school does not provide you with something similar, you may wish to photocopy the form included with this leaflet and use it to record your check. The regular vehicle maintenance system should monitor more detailed mechanical matters such as tyre pressure, coolant level and brake fluid level so that you can be confident that these are safe before you set off. If there appear to be any faults which might affect the passengers’ safety, then the vehicle should not be used until they are all remedied.

According to the Belt Up School Kids (BUSK) campaign, the commonest fault affecting minibuses, particularly twin rear wheel minibuses, is under-inflated tyres. Where access to rear tyre valves is difficult, the fitting of extension valves is a cheap and effective solution.

Permit Requirements For School Minibuses

Minibus and Community Bus Permits (“Section 19 permits”) are issued to organisations concerned with education, social welfare or other activities of benefit to the community. They allow certain organisations, including schools, to make a charge without having to comply with the full public service vehicle operator requirements and without the need for the driver to have a PCV (Category D1 or D) entitlement.

Schools must hold a ‘Section 19 permit’ if minibus journeys are funded to any extent by outside sources such as parents or parent teacher associations. Section 19 permits can be obtained from your local Traffic Area Network Office. Teachers may be held personally liable if they drive a minibus without such a permit where one is required. Only non-profit making charges, such as for the recovery of running costs including depreciation, may be made under a Section 19 permit.

The permit arrangements apply only in the UK. You cannot take a permit minibus abroad, if it is used for hire or reward, unless you hold either PCV D1 or D entitlement. It should also be noted that when a minibus is taken abroad, a tachograph must be fitted and used throughout the journey and you must observe EC drivers’ hours regulations.

Number of Drivers

There is no legal requirement for a second driver but the NUT recommends that, other than on the shortest journeys, a second trained driver should accompany every teacher driving a minibus. This will help cover emergency situations and prevent tiredness on long journeys. Even on short journeys, a second driver, acting as a supervisor, is likely to be required. Exceptions might be where a teacher is driving a group of post-16 students for a short distance.

If there are two trained drivers available and only one is a teacher, it is recommended that, for short journeys, the non-teacher drives and the teacher supervises. A second driver, acting as supervisor, will help to ensure that passengers are well behaved and that they do not distract the driver and will also assist in the event of any emergency. Insurance policies may also specify a requirement for a supervisor.

It is also recommended that a mobile telephone be carried in all minibuses to cover emergency situations. This must not, however, be used by the driver while driving the vehicle.

Travelling with SEN Pupils

Particular consideration needs to be given to minibus journeys involving pupils with special needs. The minibus itself must be suitable for the needs of all passengers, including those with disabilities.

As a general rule, it is recommended that journeys involving groups of special needs children should have a minimum of two staff, in addition to the driver. This should help ensure that the driver can drive safely, without distraction. A risk assessment undertaken in advance of the the trip will enable a decision on staffing levels to be made.

The children may have a wide range of needs which could include physical, mental, emotional, medical, behavioural and learning difficulties. Crisis situations, including epileptic fits, challenging behaviour, breathing difficulties and tantrums are just as likely to occur on the minibus as anywhere else. Consideration should also be given to the possibility that children may undo their seatbelts and attempt to escape out of the nearest exit. To avoid this happening, children can be sat in window seats so as to delay any movement towards the aisle and a member of staff can sit next to the exit.

Passengers in wheelchairs should be afforded the same level of safety as all other passengers. Ensuring that this is the case is equally important when using a hired minibus. All drivers and escorts should be trained in the care of passengers in wheelchairs, including use of passenger lifts and ramps and, where the wheelchair user needs to remain in the wheelchair for the journey, securing the wheelchair.

Seatbelts in Minibuses

Minibuses carrying three or more children, aged at least 3 but less than 16 years, on organised trips or to and from school are required to be fitted with forward facing seats and seatbelts. These requirements also apply to coaches but not to buses. 

The law requires either 2-point (lap) or 3-point (lap and diagonal) belts to be fitted. 3-point belts provide better protection in the event of an accident than 2-point belts, although 2-point belts are better than no belts at all. 

The “3 for 2” concession, which allowed three children under the age of 14 to share a double seat in a minibus or coach, no longer applies where seats are fitted with belts. Where seatbelts are fitted, each child must occupy one seat.

Seatbelts should be worn at all times by pupils and staff. There is a legal requirement that seatbelts are worn in minibuses, other than in extremely large minibuses which are unlikely to be available to schools. The driver has the legal responsibility for enforcing this requirement and ensuring that
seatbelts are worn, except in the case of adults and children aged 14 and over who are personally responsible for the wearing of their seatbelt.

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