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Gretaer Than Eight, Safer Minibuses, D1

Launching the 'Greater than Eight' campaign for safer UK minibus driver standards

- 23-Sep-2017 -

This blog is potentially one of the most important blogs ever to be published here. We hope to save lives and stop the risk to drivers and passengers of minibuses in the UK. Please read about why we started this campaign and keep coming back for updates on our progress with the petition. Thank you.

We believe minibus driver standards should be brought in line with European standards, closing the loopholes that pose a risk to drivers, passengers and other road users. Our campaign involves a petition to Mr Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport.


The full D1 licence to drive a minibus requires a medical, sight, theory and practical driving test. Castle Minibus wants to raise awareness of the safety issues and have the law changed so a full D1 licence for all drivers of 8+ passengers becomes a priority.

D1 licences

A full D1 licence is required to drive a minibus with a gross vehicle weight of over 3.5 tonnes (or an extra 750 kgs only for specialist equipment such as wheelchair access). The licence requires medical clearance including a sight test, theory and practical training, usually two or three days of training and costs on average £1500 per teacher.

It is understandable why schools may look at options that don’t require a full D1 and the advice is certainly confusing depending who you speak to because of the exceptions.

A quick history of the D1 licence and the reason for (some) safety changes

23 years ago there was a terrible accident involving a minibus on the M40, resulting in 12 children and their teacher sadly losing their lives. This led to the change in driving licensing law, so that from the 1st January 1997 everyone who passed their driving test after this date would need the full D1 licence to drive a minibus with a gross vehicle weight of over 3.5 tonnes.

This was a European wide change in the law however, the UK made an exception for volunteer drivers fearing it would be too costly for the voluntary sector. So, volunteer drivers are not required to have a D1 licence. This is where it gets complicated.

Exception 1. Volunteer Drivers

‘You may not need a D1 licence if the minibus is not for ‘hire or reward’. You might be able to drive a minibus with up to 16 passenger seats using your current car driving licence as long as there’s no payment from or on behalf of the passengers (it’s not for ‘hire or reward’)’.

‘You’re driving on a voluntary basis and the minibus is used for social purposes by a non-commercial body’ www.gov.uk/driving-a-minibus.

Some schools and authorities consider their staff to be volunteers when driving a minibus, class themselves as non-commercial and that school trips could be classed as a social activity. This is where the interpretation of what is ‘for reward or hire’ can cause confusion. Are teachers voluntary drivers? There has never been a legal test case, and we hope there never is, as to whether a teacher driving without a D1 licence, involved in an accident could claim they were a volunteer.

Exception 2. Grandfather rights

If you passed your driving test before January 1997 you will have inherited your D1 licence as part of that test, but there is a significant difference in driving a minibus with up to 16 pupils compared to your normal vehicle. Using the inherited D1 is legal but the driver might not have any minibus experience and won’t have had to take a recent medical, eye or theory test. Would you be happy to let a 50-year-old member of staff, who has only ever driven cars, drive a minibus four times the size of a car with four times the number of passengers without proper training? Just because you’re legal doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe.

There are alternative practical minibus training sessions offered to these inherited D1 holders, as well as those refreshing their skills, but these are not a legal requirement.

Exception 3. Minibus Weight

Minibus manufacturers such as Ford, Mercedes, Citroen, Peugeot and Renault continue to improve the safety and quality of their factory built minibuses without any concern for licence weight limits. 

However, to avoid the need for a D1 licence, a few vehicle convertors offer a ‘light-weight’ minibus which can carry 16 passengers with disabled access (weighing less than 4.25 tonnes) that is essentially a converted panel van with a basic ramp. They are not factory built and are missing the heavier safety features like side impact bars. It also doesn’t take into consideration the minibus might be overweight with sports equipment and a rugby team.

This is an option currently being offered to schools who believe that the minibus can then be driven by anyone over 21 holding a standard car licence, which I consider a potentially massive safety issue.

Changing the law so all drivers of 8+ vehicles must hold a full D1 licence

The safest option for school staff (who are not specific paid drivers) is a fully trained D1 licence, assessed at least every three years and driving a factory built minibus. Exploiting any of the exceptions above presents a legal or safety risk which is otherwise avoidable.

We are campaigning to raise awareness of the current risks and eliminate the exceptions to simply bring us in line with the other 27 countries within the European Union who, since 1997 require their drivers to have a full D1 licence if they are carrying more than 8 passengers.

Greater than Eight campaign objectives and petition

Castle Minibus wants to:

  • Raise awareness of the risks associated with not having a full D1 licence holder driving minibuses whether for schools or communities; no medical checks, eye tests, theory or professional practical training
  • Make getting a full D1 licence a priority
  • Petition the government to remove the exceptions of volunteer drivers and weight of the vehicle so all drivers of 8+ passengers must hold a D1 licence
  • All minibus drivers in the UK match the same level of safety standards that is required in the other 27 countries of the European Union

The Greater than Eight campaign, launched by Castle Minibus in September 2017 includes a government petition supported online with a website and social media campaign, Greater than 8+ bumper stickers for schools/organisations with full D1 licences, and a press and email campaign to schools, colleges and local authorities.

We have already been featured in The Independent Schools Magazine, Bus and Coach Buyer magazine and The Oxford Times – In Business section. We are soon to be featured in The Bursar’s Review.

To sign the petition and join the many others campaigning for minibus safety, click here.

Here’s what Pat Harris of BUSK UK had to say about our campaign,

‘One thing that has stuck with me over the years is this...parents of children that died in that (M40) crash (in 1997) are still angry that the circumstances that led to the crash that stole their children's lives and futures, still exist today. How shameful is that, that the Government Mr. Grayling, has still not demanded safer standards for school children? Are you going to be the one that will make a difference and ensure that all teachers driving pupils in minibuses, are legally required to be fit and healthy to drive, have eye tests and medicals every three to five years, have their driver licenses checked on a regular basis to ensure they are clean and to just make sure they still hold one?! Are you going to be the one that demands teachers are adequately trained, including undergoing CPC training and are required to clearly understand their legal obligations when driving a minibus because right now? BUSK can reveal that there are many, many, in fact, far too many schools up and down the country that are operating illegally and thus, putting pupils and teachers at risk.’


You can read the whole comment, that Pat made on our petition in next week's blog... In the meantime, please consider signing the petition.

Thank you

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