Going Large: How To Cope With Driving A Minibus

If you’re a car driver and you find yourself piloting a minibus, you’re bound to experience mixed feelings. There’s a great deal about the hot seat that will be familiar, what with there being a steering wheel, a handbrake, a gear lever or selector and some pedals. On the other hand, the driver’s seat in a minibus will feel a long way from the ground. Equally, the unparalleled vista given by the big windows and screen will highlight the sheer bulk of the vehicle. However, fear not. The only real differences between a minibus and a car can be expressed in two words: size and weight. Allowing for these differences is easy enough and after some practise, you’ll be driving the minibus like a professional.

Where do drivers new to minibuses go wrong? They tend to forget about the scale of things as regards the minibus. Once this is accommodated on an active basis, matters become far easier.

Let’s begin with the first of the differences. Compared to a car, a minibus is wide, long and tall, and realising this by clipping an obstacle, either on the road or during parking, is a realisation too late. Moreover, it’s both embarrassing and expensive. So, start learning minibus-driving skills in a suitable place. There are plenty of large car parks to be found, at out of town shopping centres for example. Finding one and using it will allow you to become accustomed to the size of the vehicle, as well as the way it responds to its controls. It’s worth taking an assistant at this stage, as well as a few empty cardboard boxes. Why? Put it this way, would you rather nudge a cardboard box or someone’s car or a bollard when practicing parking and manoeuvering? Enough said.

Minibus tyros often forget about the height of their new charge. Car park height barriers are the obvious danger but overhanging trees and other roadside foliage won’t do the vehicle’s paint much good. It’s easy to allow for these obstructions. However, some minibus learner drivers take the trouble to add a label to the minibus’s dash or windscreen. Having a clearly visible note of the vehicle’s height, width and length near the eye line is good practice. With this, the driver can start thinking of the minibus as a mobile box, with dimensions as noted. This could save you a small fortune in minor damage claims.

The second aspect is the weight of the minibus. Power steering and brakes, good sound insulation and car-like interiors are all very well but they can seduce drivers into thinking a minibus is lighter than it is in reality. This doesn’t mean that it will fall through a hole in the road but it does mean that the minibus will be slower to accelerate, less accomplished in bends and take longer to stop than a car. Allowing for this extra weight is important: remember that with a full load of fuel and passengers, the minibus will weigh still more.

The final aspect to consider is the minibus’s ‘footprint’ on the road. No, this has nothing to do with carbon, we’re talking about the physical presence of the vehicle. Everyone knows how imposing an articulated lorry is, as compared to a car. At perhaps twice the size of car and three times its weight, a minibus can bully small cars, and especially cyclists and pedestrians. The driver must therefore be aware of what he or she is driving, and drive accordingly. This means avoiding tailgating, not making unclear signals and not making either excessive or vague inputs to the controls. In general, the driver should be aware of the responsibilities associated with driving a bigger vehicle, and drive like a professional, in keeping with these responsibilities. BOLA TANGKAS