School bus drivers 'risked children's lives' with illegal long shifts

Matthew Wright of Wrights Coaches

Matthew Wright of Wrights Coaches of Wroxham has been banned from operating a coach company - Credit: Supplied

Schoolchildren’s lives were put at risk by a bus company director who transported pupils during illegally long shifts of up to 24 hours without a break.

Matthew Wright, of Wrights Coaches based in Wroxham and Norwich, has been banned from operating a bus company after being found to have committed 41 offences in a three-month period.

Five of his drivers also had their commercial driving licences suspended or revoked after committing a further 22 offences, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner ruled.

Wright and his drivers falsified information held by vehicles’ tachographs, the units which record whether haulage and coach drivers have driven too many hours without a break. 

His company PTS Group Ltd, trading as Wrights Coaches, provides day trips and outings for groups of pensioners and tourists, football fans and youth teams. It also holds the Norfolk County Council contract for the school bus routes of four secondary and two primary schools.

Marian Kitson, director of enforcement for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), said: “Customers had placed their trust in this operator to deliver passengers, some of whom were children, safely to their destinations. Instead, they deliberately broke the rules, risking their lives and the lives of others.”

Norfolk County Council said it was aware of the ruling and would be sourcing new contracts. 

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A spokesman said: “Our contracts clearly state that it is the bus operators' responsibility to ensure their service is run in line with the relevant laws and regulations, much like any road user.”

He added that provision would go on uninterrupted: “While some bus routes will see a change in provider, parents and children can rest assured that this isn’t an uncommon process and they will be able to get the bus to school as normal.”

The offences were discovered following an unannounced visit from the DVSA in late 2019, which prompted a detailed examination of drivers’ hours and maintenance records.

Fifteen tachograph records had been falsified by Wright or his drivers, and drivers had used other drivers’ names on records to conceal illegal dangerous practices of taking insufficient rest.

Wrights Coaches site in Wroxham

Wrights Coaches site in Wroxham

Records for journeys accounting for 7381 kilometres were also missing.

On one occasion Wright himself drove a coachload of children home from school then went on to drive a rail replacement bus service when he should have been resting, during a shift which totalled 24 hours on duty.

Investigators also discovered that there was no forward planning system in place for coach maintenance, safety checks were not being undertaken within the required time interval, and there was an ineffective system in place for reporting and rectifying roadworthiness defects. 

At the hearing in Cambridge on September 6 Wright had his Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence revoked, effective from October 6, and was banned for six months from driving professionally, effective from September 6.

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