Dangers of driving a school minibus

  • Any incident involving a minibus can have huge financial, reputational and legal implications for a school
  • It is not uncommon for liabilities to surpass £1 million following an incident
  • To reduce risks, schools should follow best practices laid out by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

As well as being devastating to all those involved, an incident on a school minibus, or a road crash connected with the vehicle, can have massive financial, reputational and legal implications; with some liabilities surpassing £1 million following an incident.

However, it’s not just road traffic accidents that a school minibus might be involved in. Zurich Municipal has recently handled claims ranging from students being punched and falling off a minibus, to teachers tumbling down steps when exiting a vehicle.

A minibus can be a valuable asset to a school – providing pupils with access to the many benefits of off-site activities. But driving a minibus is significantly different to driving a private car, and is not a task to be undertaken lightly.

Health and safety legislation requires schools to take all reasonable care to ensure the safety of pupils and staff transported on school vehicles and journeys. Although there is no definitive law for driving school minibuses, the Department for Education has issued advice on the matter.

Safety first

Safety should always be the first consideration. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, before any minibus drives out of the gates, schools should have a list of best practices in place. These include:

• Risk assessments around minibus safety that should be conducted at regular intervals, with detailed records kept

• All minibuses should be adequately insured and insurance policies should apply to all teachers and staff that drive the minibus. All activities and journeys of the minibus should also fall under the school’s insurance cover

• Minibuses should be serviced and maintained regularly, with pre-drive safety checks conducted by the driver before each journey

• All vehicles must have a valid tax disc and be correctly licensed

• All authorised drivers must have appropriate minibus training, and entitlement on their driving licence, with their driving skills being regularly assessed

• Schools should also consider setting age limits for drivers

• All authorised drivers must ensure they are fit to drive and must not drive if they are ill, affected by medicines or under the influence of alcohol or drugs

• Drivers should never use a mobile phone while driving

• Drivers should always be well rested and not drive when tired. There should be clear rules set on drivers’ hours, and the rules enforced. A second driver should be provided on long journeys and all trips should be properly planned

• Passengers should only be carried in a minibus that is suitable for their needs and adequately supervised, and they should be made aware of appropriate behaviour

• Seat belts should be provided on all seats and used by passengers. Children under a height of 135cm, or less than 12 years old, must travel in vehicles fitted with the correct child restraint seats

• Minibuses must be fitted with a tachograph (a device fitted to the vehicle to record information about driving time, speed and distance), as required by law. Drivers must also understand how speed limiters affect the way the vehicle can be safely driven

• Passengers in wheelchairs should be afforded the same level of safety as all other passengers

• Appropriate fire hazard procedures should be in place, all luggage securely stowed and maximum weight limits of the minibus should never be exceeded

• When travelling abroad, minibus operators should ensure that they are aware of and follow all necessary rules and regulations for international journeys

Despite the risks involved many teachers across the country regularly ferry their pupils around in minibuses. However unions urge teaching staff to refrain from driving minibuses, advocating that driving duties should be carried out by trained support staff or specialist drivers.

What to do if an accident occurs

If a minibus is involved in an incident, the most important task following a collision is to stop and make sure all parties involved are safe – as injuries to children can be less obvious. Zurich Municipal would recommend that any teacher in charge of a minibus involved in a collision, call emergency services so that healthcare professionals can double-check everyone involved in the accident is fit and well.

Once everyone involved is given a clean bill of health, checks to the minibus should then be made and any damage noted before assuming a vehicle is safe to drive. Gathering evidence at the time of incident, although time-consuming, is also important for future claims purposes – as is reporting the accident to an insurer as soon as possible.

Government statistics show that minibuses are a comparatively safe form of transport, but it is imperative that – with children on board – schools always adhere to the rules when using them.