Minibuses provide a vital service for many people and organisations. However, driving a minibus is significantly different from driving a car. A minibus is larger, longer, wider and heavier than a car, and its steering, cornering and braking characteristics are markedly different. Another important difference is the number of passengers being carried, some of whom may have additional needs, may be taken ill on the journey, and who may need supervising.
The basis on which you can drive is different from a car.
This guidance is designed to be used in conjunction with ‘Minibus Safety: A Code of Practice’, a guide for managers in organisations that use minibuses.
The term 'must' implies a legal duty, 'should' is good practice and ‘'consider’ is to be aware. The use of the terms must, should, good and best practice are the opinions of the authors only. The information herein should not be regarded as a definitive interpretation of the law.
What is a minibus?
A minibus is a vehicle designed to carry up to 16 passengers (not including the driver) with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) not exceeding 3.5 tonnes (4.25 tonnes if specialist equipment is fitted).
Gross vehicle weight - the total weight of the vehicle, the passengers, the driver, fuel, equipment and/ or luggage and any fixtures or additional fixtures or specialist equipment. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that the GVW is not exceeded. (You may see GVW expressed as MAM – Maximum Authorised Mass).
Who can drive a minibus and on what basis?
Minibuses may be operated by commercial organisations operating a bus service, shuttle service, bus and driver hire, or as a tour operator. They may also be operated by independent schools (non-charitable status), sports clubs and religious institutions that require a payment (and make a profit) from passengers.
Minibuses may also be operated by not-for-profit organisations, independent schools (with charitable status), maintained schools, academy schools, sporting and religious entities and charities and community bus schemes (not-for-profit).
In order to drive a minibus you must:
Have a valid driving licence that entitles you to drive a minibus
Be at least 21-years-old
Be insured to drive the minibus
Have the owner’s permission to drive it
Ensure the minibus is roadworthy, taxed and has a current MOT
Ensure the minibus displays a minibus permit (if it is being used under a permit scheme).
What are the driving licence requirements to drive a minibus?
The licence category you will need to drive a minibus will depend on the reasons you are driving, the organisation you are working for and the date you obtained your full (manual) car licence.
Vocational drivers, drivers who are contracted, self-employed owner drivers and employees required to drive a minibus as part of their duty will need to obtain category D or D1 (Passenger Carrying Vehicle PCV) entitlement. These drivers will also need to complete 35 hours of driver CPC in five yearly periods.
You may drive a minibus for non-commercial purposes, but this will be dependent on when you obtained your full car driving licence (manual car).
For car licences obtained before January 1, 1997:
Your licence includes D1 entitlement with the 101 restriction (not for hire and reward)
You may drive a minibus as an occasional driver or a volunteer driver under a section 19 permit
If you change your name or address, you will have to apply to keep the D1 entitlement on your licence.
For car licences obtained on or after January 1, 1997:
If you are a volunteer driver you can drive a minibus on your car licence if:
You are over 21-years-old but under 70-years-old
You are 70-years-old or older, have renewed your licence and passed a PCV medical test
You have held your full car licence for at least two years
You do not receive any payment for driving the minibus, other than out of pocket expenses (e.g. fuel)
The minibus is being used by a non-commercial organisation for social purposes but not for hire or reward (unless it is operated under a section 19 permit (section 10b in Northern Ireland))
The minibus does not exceed 3.5 tonnes or 4.25 tonnes if specialised equipment for disabled passengers is included (the additional weight can only be for the specialised equipment)
You do not tow a trailer.
If you obtained your full car driving licence on or after the January 19, 2013:
In addition to the rules above, you can only drive a minibus with a maximum length of eight metres.
When will my licence expire?
Category B & Category D1 (if obtained before 01/01/1997):
The day prior to your 70th birthday.
Category D / D1 (if obtained by taking the vocational driving test):
If you apply to claim your first bus test pass (D1, D, D1E or DE) or renew your driving licence on or after January 19, 2013, the licence issued will be valid for a maximum of five years. Once you’ve been issued with a five-year licence, you’ll need to renew the licence when it expires. To renew the licence and to renew bus entitlement you’ll need to fill in the application and medical questions on an application for a lorry, bus or minibus driving licence (D2) or the renewal reminder form.
From the age of 70, the renewal period is every three years. If you have a notifiable medical condition, the DVLA may also require you to renew your licence at shorter intervals.
What do I need to check before driving a minibus?
A pre-drive inspection of the vehicle is important for safety and compliance reasons. As the driver, and once on the road, you are responsible for the condition of your vehicle, ensuring that it safe and legal, is not overweight, that all necessary equipment is working correctly and that you have sufficient fuel for the journey.
It is recommended that you conduct a pre-drive check every time you drive the minibus. Your minibus operator may provide a checklist.
Walk around the minibus, including the trailer if applicable, to check for visible defects and the items in the checklist
If you are unsure how to do these checks, read the vehicle handbook, and/or ask someone to show you.
Loads and luggage
Ensure that the minibus is not overloaded (check the handbook or the plate on the vehicle for the maximum weight). If you are not sure whether it is overloaded, take it to a public weighbridge.
Only use a trailer if you have an E category on your driving licence (e.g., D1 + E), and you have been trained to drive with one.
Ensure that you know how to connect the trailer, including the electrical connections, that it is not overloaded and that the weight is evenly distributed and securely covered. Make sure no items are sticking out.
Be aware that minibuses towing trailers are subject to lower speed limits and cannot use the outside lane on motorways with three or more lanes.
If you use a roof rack, make sure it is securely fitted, the load is evenly distributed and securely fastened. You should consider how, and where, you can safely load and unload things in a roof rack.
If you find any problem during the check, report it to your manager immediately.
It is a good idea to have the following equipment available:
British Standard fire extinguisher of water or foam, with a minimum test rating of 8A or 21B (If there are passengers in wheelchairs, then the minibus should be equipped with two fire extinguishers.)
First aid box (legally required)
Hi-visibility tabards/jackets complying with BS EN 471 or BS EN ISO 20471
“Break-glass” hammers and seatbelt cutters should be carried on the minibus and are a requirement if one of the emergency exits is of the “break-glass” type
Pen and paper
The organisation’s internal instructions and contact details
Motoring breakdown policy details
Mobile phone, phonecard or change for the phone
Emergency warning triangle or a flashing beacon (not fitted to the vehicle)
Emergency contact details.
For advice on planning your journey and fitness to drive, take a look at our safer driving for work handbook.
How can I transport passengers safely?
When boarding, never allow passengers to board until the minibus is at a complete standstill and safely parked by a pavement or traffic free area. Make sure the passengers enter the minibus from the pavement (unless using a ramp or lift at the rear). If the nearside door opens onto the road, take extra care.
Ensure children are supervised when boarding. Plan which passengers will sit in the front seats and by the doors. Child car seats do not need to be provided in minibuses, but if they are, they must be used by children who are under 12-years-old or under 135cm tall, and fitted correctly. If school bus signs are used, make sure they are in position only while children are being transported, and that they do not obstruct your vision. Consider the need for bus assistants, supervisor, or care assistants.
If a tail-lift or other specialist equipment is fitted, ensure that you have the correct training to operate it and always comply with the manufacturer’s instructions. Never allow passengers (or untrained staff) to operate any equipment.
Make sure you have a list of the passengers being carried and any medical or additional needs, checking that passengers have any necessary medication with them. Keep the list where it can be readily found in the event of an incident. If you have a passenger with an oxygen cylinder, display signs to warn emergency services in the event of fire. These should not be displayed if there is no oxygen on board.
Ensure that you are not exceeding the carrying capacity of the minibus. Make sure everyone is sitting, one to a seat, and that all passengers are wearing their seatbelt and that you are wearing yours. Before setting off, check that no bags or clothing are caught in the doors, all luggage is secured, and that gangways and exits are clear. Finally, check all mirrors before moving away in case latecomers are approaching the vehicle.
During the journey
If you leave the vehicle, switch off the engine and remove the key.
Do not leave children unaccompanied in the minibus. If there is a serious delay during the journey, inform the school or organisation so that information may be passed to parents.
For more advice on safe driving, take a look at our resources.
At the end of the journey
Avoid unnecessary reversing, but if it is unavoidable, seek adult assistance for direction and ensure no one stands directly behind the minibus.
Always park so that passengers step onto the footway and not the road. Never allow passengers to leave until the minibus is at a complete standstill and parked by a pavement or other traffic free area, with the handbrake engaged.
Ensure passengers are supervised when leaving the minibus. Do not leave children or vulnerable passengers alone if no one has arrived to collect them. Ensure you know what to do if a passenger is not collected.
How can I safely transport passengers with additional needs?
You should only transport passengers who use wheelchairs if you have been trained to do so.
When passengers remain in their wheelchairs when travelling in a minibus:
Make sure that the wheelchair tie-downs being used are suitable for the type of wheelchair being secured
Provide the wheelchair user with a suitable safety belt or harness, following the manufacturer’s instructions for the equipment being used
Follow any additional instructions you have been given for that wheelchair user.
Passengers that need to remain in their wheelchair should only travel in a minibus that is equipped with the necessary anchor points and restraining equipment.
What should I do after my journey?
At the end of your journey, conduct a post trip vehicle check, inside and outside the minibus, and record any visible damage or faults, any emergency equipment that has been used and any incidents that have occurred during the journey.
Report any faults to the minibus operator as soon as practicable, and do not use the minibus until the fault is rectified. If the operator has provided a reporting form or procedure, follow this.
What should I do in the event of a breakdown, collision or emergency?
The minibus operator should provide clear written procedures for you to follow in the event of a breakdown, collision or other emergency (such as passenger illness). Keep a copy of these procedures, contact details of who to contact in an emergency and of a breakdown firm and any reference numbers you may need to quote.
Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone to summon help if necessary, but do not use the phone while driving.
Move the passengers out of the nearside of the minibus and as far away from traffic as possible. Don’t let anyone stand behind the minibus. On motorways or other busy roads, take the passengers onto the embankment or grass margin and as far from the traffic as possible. In some circumstances, it is safer to leave passengers in the minibus.
For example, if it seems too dangerous to unload passengers in wheelchairs or if there is not a safe waiting area. You will need to assess the situation and decide whether or not to unload passengers. Keep passengers together in one group and under supervision. Do not allow child passengers to assist with repairing or restarting the minibus and never allow them to push the minibus.
If necessary, go for help, leaving the passengers with the passenger assistant, but if you are the only adult present, do not leave children alone. Give the police or breakdown service accurate details of the location and let the operator know if children or passengers with mobility problems are being carried. After calling for help, telephone your contact to tell them what has happened and ask them to relay messages to parents and others.
In the event of a collision, follow the above advice for breakdowns. If any passengers are injured, do not move them unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
Report the incident to the minibus operator on your return.
The best way to evacuate the minibus will depend on the incident, the passenger group and the type of minibus. You will need to exercise your judgment at the scene. You should follow the advice for breakdowns as above.
It may not be possible to remove wheelchairs quickly from a minibus, unless you are trained to do so. It may be necessary to lift a passenger from the minibus, which is not easy to do in a confined space and often requires two people.
Do not attempt to tackle a vehicle fire, unless you have been trained to do so.