Transportation by coach or minibus
Factors to be considered when planning and undertaking risk assessments for transport by coach or minibus include:
- passenger safety
- competence level and training of the driver, and whether he or she has the correct license
- number of driving hours
- capacity and experience of the driver to maintain concentration (eg is more than one driver needed to avoid fatigue?)
- type of journey (eg is it a local trip or long distance one?)
- traffic conditions
- contingency funds and arrangements in case of a breakdown or an emergency
- insurance cover
- the weather
- stopping points on long journeys
Minibuses and coaches used to carry three or more students on an organised trip where the transport of children is central to the journey must have seat belts fitted.
The minimum requirement is for all children and young people between the ages of three and 16 years (but not including 16-year-olds) to be provided with a forward-facing seat with a fitted lap belt in minibuses or coaches used to take them on organised trips, including journeys to and from school or college. However, ATL recommends that all minibuses are fitted with lap and diagonal seat belts. Some buses are not fitted with seat belts.
Schools and colleges are therefore advised to seek confirmation from coach operators that their vehicles are fitted with seat belts.
Check that every student has his or her seatbelt fastened before you set off (see below for more on seat belts).
Driving a minibus
The law covering minibuses is complex. ATL endorses the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) publication, Minibus safety: a code of practice and recommends that all schools and colleges follow it and make a copy available to staff (download it from the RoSPA website). Anyone who drives a minibus or is asked to do so should read the code.
Government guidance says that driving a minibus should always be a voluntary activity, unless minibus driving is noted as a specific requirement in the advertisement for a post. Members of staff who wish to volunteer to drive school/college minibuses should be aware that they are required to pass an additional test and to comply with health standards if they passed their motor vehicle driving test after 1 January 1997. Those applying for licenses to drive minibuses and medium-sized vehicles must also have eyesight tests.
In addition, no member of staff should drive a minibus unless trained to do so. If the school or college does not have access to a training course, RoSPA runs training courses in centres throughout the country.
A member of staff should never drive a minibus when he or she feels too tired or unwell to do so safely. ATL would regard it as unreasonable for a member of staff who said he or she was too tired to drive a minibus safely to be instructed to do so, and would defend that person vigorously if he or she were to refuse.
A minibus driver should never be expected to ensure passengers remain well behaved and strapped into their seats throughout the journey at the same time as driving. At least one other adult should be on board, unless the journey is very short. Ideally, the other adult should be also a trained minibus driver. ATL recommends that there should always be two competent drivers in a minibus for anything other than a very short journey.
It should become normal practice for drivers to have a mobile telephone for use in emergencies.
Seat belts and child restraints
Children aged three or more, up to a height of 135cm (approximately 4ft 5ins) or 12 years old, whichever they reach first, must travel in vehicles fitted with the correct seat. The driver is legally responsible for ensuring that this occurs. This includes education staff who transport students in their own vehicles for off-site visits, such as sports matches.
For those children who are over 135 cm in height or who have reached their 12th birthday, adult seat belts must be work in the front and rear seats, if available.
Seated passengers aged 14 years and over must use seat belts where they are fitted in minibuses, coaches or buses as outlined above.
Buses at the school gate
So that they can see students onto and off the site, it is common practice for staff to remain on rostered duty for a reasonable period (approximately ten minutes, for example) before and after the school day.
Occasionally, buses arrive late. ATL's view is that staff should not be expected to stay more than 15 minutes after the bus is due to arrive before reporting the matter and handing responsibility for the students left on site to a designated senior manager. Parents and staff should be told about the procedure to be used if buses arrive late.
Members may not realise that seeing students onto either hired transport or service buses outside the school grounds constitutes taking them off-site. Special care needs to be taken in these situations, especially if this involves seeing students across the road. Only the police, traffic wardens and official school crossing patrols have the legal right to control traffic. Those who assume responsibility for seeing students across a road in the absence of a school crossing patrol, must discharge this activity reasonably and to the best of their ability. A safe crossing point must be chosen carefully. Most groups will probably require more than one adult to supervise the road crossing adequately.
Staff who perform these tasks should be treated as volunteers, unless their contracts/job descriptions oblige them to do so. It is essential that:
- they obtain written confirmation from their employer that, in the event of an accident befalling a student during that supervision, there is full insurance cover
- they write to their employer making it clear that they will carry out this task in a voluntary capacity.