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23 years later, what have we learnt from the M40 minibus tragedy? - Blog Post

23 years later, what have we learnt from the M40 minibus tragedy?

- 28-Nov-2016 -

How 'grandfather rights' for D1 category licenses came about...

In honour of the 23rd anniversary of the tragic M40 minibus crash, which killed 12 pupils and one teacher, we take a look at subsequent changes to licensing laws and what can still be done to ensure the safety school transport.

The catalyst for action

For those of you who don’t remember, or weren’t born at the time, one wintery evening on 18th November 1993 became a nightmare for the communities surrounding Hagley Roman Catholic High School, especially the families and loved ones of the victims involved. Whilst parents waited in the school car park for their children to arrive back from a school trip to the Royal Albert Hall, one of the school minibuses transporting them had crashed into the back of a motorway maintenance vehicle, bursting into flames and killing 13 people.

The inexperienced driver simply fell asleep at the wheel.

The reaction - D1 Licences

The driving licensing law was subsequently changed on the 1st of January 1997 whereby everyone who passed their driving test after this date had to have a D1 licence for driving a minibus that had a gross vehicle weight of over 3.5 tonnes. This was fantastic news where safety was concerned. Manufacturers such as Ford, Mercedes and Renault continued to improve the safety and quality of their factory built minibuses, this in turn increased the weight of their vehicles. But as always, once the dust had settled, some van converters looked at ways to work around this law.

UK license - Castle Minibus

Light Weight Minibuses

The major manufacturers such as Ford, Vauxhall, Renault and Mercedes, build a variety of 14, 15 and 17 seat minibuses that all weigh over 3.5 tonnes and therefore require a D1 licence as they are purpose built as minibuses. To avoid the need for a D1 licence, vehicle converters offer a ‘light-weight’ minibus (weighing less than 3.5 tonnes) that is essentially a converted van. These vehicles escape the legalities of having D1 license training and legally allow the inexperienced (minibus) driver to take the wheel. Some schools still choose this option to avoid D1 training costs. Interestingly, anyone driving a vehicle with more than 8 passengers in France, Germany, Holland, Italy or Belgium, must hold a D1 licence. In Hertfordshire countey council, they now insist that all vehicles with more than 8 passengers must be driven with a driver who has a D1 licence and we expect more local authorities to follow suit in reducing their exposure to this risk. Hertfordshire County Council's information on minibuses

Acquired Rights

Some teachers will have the D1 as part of their existing driving licence. As stated on www.gov.uk/driving-a-minibus, as long as you have received your full driving license before the 1st of January 1997, and you follow minimal requirements such as not towing a trailer, you are qualified to drive a minibus. You have what is termed `grandfather` or attained rights. You have simply inherited the right to drive a 9-16 seater minibus, under a certain weight. Driving a minibus is a completely different experience from driving a car and just because you are legal, it does not mean you are safe.

For those with attained rights you can complete the Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme (MiDAS), which Castle Minibus recommend and also deliver, but ideally MiDAS is refresher training, as the amount of time spent on the road is limited. Castle Minibus Assessment Days on the other hand, are fully comprehensive training days based entirely on the practical elements of driving a minibus, including ‘the walk around’ or pre-trip vehicle checks and then an on road assessment.

Castle Driver Training vehicles - Castle Driver Training

If you don’t want to take the D1 but want to increase your level of confidence and competence in driving a minibus, these are your two alternatives.

Castle Minibus campaign for safety

What Castle Minibus are campaigning for, regardless of the year the driver was born, is compulsory D1 driver’s license training for all minibus drivers. Being of a certain age, or the vehicle being lighter in weight, doesn’t automatically make you safe whilst driving a minibus. Similarly, having 15 minutes practise with the MiDAS, which is optional, shouldn’t be classed as sufficient.

Where schools are involved or any other company for that matter, sufficient training and specific safety checks should be performed before departure. They are required for coaches for 50 children, so why not 17?

D1 Passed - Castle Driver Training

Despite the risks of an accident, schools need to consider whether they are taking all the necessary safety precautions and whether or not they want to adhere to best practice when it comes to their minibuses. Companies that lease or sell lightweight minibuses may claim those that don’t do so only to ‘sell’ the D1 training.

Our Managing Director, Chris Maynard says, `We refuse to offer lightweight minibuses because we know that the safest option is to carry students in a purpose built minibus with a D1 trained and experienced driver. Our customers also recognise that the most dangerous thing a school can do is take their students out on the public highways. Ask yourself, what other areas of your school do you look to avoid the law?

Next year in 2017, our sister company, Castle Driver Training Ltd, will have successfully trained in excess of 1,000 teachers. All signs indicate that more and more schools recognise the importance of avoiding the risks of not properly training their teachers to drive a minibus'.

In November 2016, Castle launched the free “The School Transport Manager” app which will walk you through the safety procedures in as little as 5-10 minutes, click here to watch the video. Your safety check, made through the app, will then be automatically filed saving time and paperwork issues. Download the free app now to increase the safety, condition and road-worthiness of your vehicle and drive peacefully knowing you’re doing your best for those pupils.

the School Transport Manager - Castle Minibus


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