Taking your pupils out on a trip can seem like a legislative nightmare. There are so many risk factors that you need to consider, and rightly so – to keep your pupils and staff safe when leaving school premises.
What is often overlooked, however, is the transport that is used for these trips – something that should be at the top of your checklist.
For example, are you aware that to drive a minibus (not for hire or financial reward) the driver needs D1 entitlement on their driving licence? And that while drivers who passed their car test (category B) before January 1, 1997, automatically received this entitlement, if the drivers passed their test after this date the D1 category would not have been granted.
However, the category B entitlement allows the driver to drive a nine to 16-seat minibus (17 seats including the driver) under a Section 19 permit providing the following conditions are met:
You have held a category B licence for at least two years and are over 21-years-old.
You receive no payment or consideration for driving the vehicle other than out-of-pocket expenses.
The minibus has a gross weight not exceeding 3,500kg (or 4,250kg with reduced mobility).
Under Section 19 of the Transport Act 1985, organisations that operate without a view to profit can obtain a permit exempting them from the need to hold a PSV (public service vehicle) operator’s licence when providing transport for a charge. Under specific conditions, the drivers of certain vehicles are exempt from the need to have a PCV (passenger-carrying vehicle) entitlement on their driving licence.
Section 19 permits are either “standard permits” for vehicles which are adapted to carry no more than 16 passengers (excluding the driver) or “large bus permits” for vehicles which are adapted to carry 17 or more passengers. These permits may be granted to organisations that operate vehicles without a view to profit and for transporting people whom the organisation exists to help.
Elsewhere, did you know there is a requirement for all diesel minibuses registered after October 1, 2001, to be fitted with a speed limiter restricting their maximum speed to 62mph? There is also now a requirement for all minibuses (petrol and diesel) registered after January 1, 2005, to be fitted with a speed limiter.
Other considerations are that your minibuses have a three-point seatbelt and have forward-facing seating. Again, this came into effect as of October 1, 2001 – if your minibuses do not, you are breaking the law.
What about the driver? What are their responsibilities? If you have volunteer minibus drivers, then they are personally responsible for its roadworthiness. This includes the interior and exterior of the vehicle – from the wheels to the seatbelts.
If you are stopped and any defects are found by the police – it is the driver who will face the repercussions. So ensure that you have fully comprehensive minibus insurance for all drivers to avoid any problems. Of course, this does not mean you should simply turn a blind eye to maintenance and expect it to be carried out by your volunteer.
Training drivers is also incredibly important. Recommendations from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) on driver training include familiarisation with the vehicle, emergency procedures and journey planning.
It is worth noting that, even if your chosen driver has all the legal requirements to drive a minibus, they can refuse to do so if they feel the vehicle is not fit-for-purpose. The NUT also suggests that all journeys, in particularly those which exceed two hours – should have a secondary driver for if an emergency arises.
When it comes to physical vehicle checks, you should be doing this routinely, and so should your drivers before every trip. Tyre pressure and tread need to be actively monitored, along with the overall conditions of the mechanics of the vehicle.
Planned maintenance should be thorough, regular and frequent enough to meet the manufacturer’s guidelines and common sense. It is highly advisable to have in place a checklist procedure. If the driver does not tick all the boxes in the checklist, then the vehicle must not be used. Keeping a hard-copy of this, with signatures and dates, is best practice.
Keeping your school vehicles up to current standards is so important. The health and safety of your staff and pupils is of course something that you already hold in the highest of regards, and your vehicles should not be forgotten about.
Nickie Brooks is the managing director of Alternative Route Finance and has been working in the fleet leasing industry for more than 30 years. Visit www.alternativeroutefinance.co.uk