As more and more drivers who passed their driving test after 1997 volunteer to drive minibuses, many minibus owners are faced with a problem.
Drivers who passed their tests before January 1997 automatically got a D1 entitlement, but those whose full car driving licence was obtained from 1997 onwards can only drive a vehicle with a maximum capacity of eight passengers, providing the gross weight of the vehicle does not exceed 3500kg.
There is however a dispensation for a volunteer to drive a Minibus with a higher capacity of 16 passengers, providing the gross weight does not exceed 3500kgs, unless the Minibus is modified for the carriage of disabled persons, when the gross weight may be as high as 4250kgs.
The definition of “modified for the carriage of disabled persons”, has not been tested in the courts, but is generally held to be a Minibus modified for the carriage of wheelchairs. This should include an electrohydraulic tail lift or a full width, folding ramp to provide wheelchair access.
Individual channel ramps, or removable ramps are no longer acceptable on a new Minibus.
The Minibus will almost certainly feature removable track mounted seats to create space for at least one wheelchair, equipment to secure the wheelchair and occupant, and other features mandated by Type Approval regulations. The additional 750kg gross weight allowance is intended to provide for all the extra necessary equipment.
With the arrival of the new regulations in October 2011 the construction weight of basic Minibuses increased, as did the required payload allowance per passenger. With the introduction of Euro 6 engines resulting in lower available payloads, it is no longer possible to build a 17 seat minibus at 3500kgs GVW, which meets Type Approval.
Other conditions apply for volunteers: the driver must be at least 21 years old and have held the licence for at least two years; and a volunteer making use of this dispensation may not tow a trailer. This provision for volunteers may only be relied upon while driving in the UK.
Who can take advantage of the provision?
A qualifying volunteer is someone who drives a Minibus for a non-commercial organisation, for social purposes, who is not paid to drive. They are allowed to receive out of pocket expenses.
Many people taking advantage of this provision are teachers, where driving is not included as part of their contract of employment.