Police officers investigate the school bus destroyed in a collision in Qingyang, Gansu Province Wednesday. Photo: IC
At least 18 pre-school children and two adults were killed when their minivan collided head-on with a truck Wednesday in Gansu Province, triggering fresh concerns over school bus safety in the country.
At 9:15 am, a minivan carrying 62 children around five years of age, as well as a teacher and a driver, collided with a truck carrying coal while heading westward to a kindergarten named Little Doctor in Yulinzi town, Zhengning county.
The minivan was designed to carry a maximum of nine people.
The minivan driver and four children were killed instantly, while the teacher and another 14 children were confirmed dead by midday after being rushed to hospital, the county's publicity department said in a statement sent to the Global Times.
The remaining 44 children were injured and have been hospitalized, 12 of whom are in serious condition and have been transferred to hospital in the city of Qingyang.
Shi Zhengwei, a spokesman from the publicity department, said initial investigations showed that the minivan had a legitimate license but was severely overloaded and traveling in the wrong direction.
The truck driver was suspected of driving while under fatigue and has been taken into custody by the police. The truck had a license plate from neighboring Shaanxi Province, the statement said.
There was heavy fog and poor visibility when the accident happened, China Central Television reported, citing witnesses.
There have been several deadly accidents in recent years involving overloaded vehicles carrying students, exposing the lack of supervision and relevant laws and regulations in this regard.
On December 27, 2010, a three-wheel vehicle carrying 20 primary school students plummeted into a river, killing 14 onboard.
On March 14, a school bus loaded with 81 people, including 76 preschool children, crashed into a roadside construction fence due to excessive speed in Mentougou district, Beijing.
A 5-year-old boy and a teacher died in the crash. The bus only had 49 seats, and the 34-year-old driver was later found to have a 10-year drug addiction.
A 2007 study by the Ministry of Education (MOE) on safety conditions surrounding primary and middle school students showed that 61.6 percent of safety accidents happened outside school, and traffic accidents are the top killers of students.
The state quality supervision watchdog and the Standardization Administration jointly released a school vehicle safety regulation in July, 2010, specifically stipulating requirements on seat belts, windows, interior fittings, exits and drivers.
However, the regulation has so far failed to address all the problems.
"The high cost of operating and maintaining school buses and the small profit made from this service stop many schools from purchasing them," Li Tao, the director of a laboratory at the Chongqing-based National Passenger Car Quality Inspection Center, told the Global Times.
Li noted that most of the vehicles involved in those deadly accidents were ordinary cars that stopped well short of meeting the 2010 regulation.
According to the China Youth Daily, a typical school bus costs between 100,000 and 200,000 yuan ($31,523) more than an ordinary bus, which is a considerable sun for many schools.
"Relevant authorities are considering providing financial support to schools through the central or local budget, so as to alleviate their financial burdens for using school buses," said Li, one of the drafters of the 2010 regulation.
Meanwhile, the China Auto News reported that since 2001, the MOE has been running a campaign to optimize education resources in rural areas by merging schools. By 2010, the number of primary schools in the country came to 257,400, about 300,000 less than the number in 2000.
The reduced number of schools increased students' travel distances and also demand for school buses, the newspaper said.
Analysts also called for relevant laws for school bus management to be established.
"The authorities created standards for manufacturing school buses, but did not issue rules for those who operate them, thus they cannot address problems in safety inspection and supervision of such services," Tang Yuxiang, chairman of the board of Yutong Bus Co, told the China Auto News.
In August, the MOE designated six counties and cities across China for trial use of standard school busses.
In May, Deqing county of Zhejiang Province spent 20 million yuan on 79 US-style yellow school buses, or "big nose" buses, for all its primary students.
In June 29, all students living in rural and pastoral areas of Lhasa in Tibet Autonomous Region began to take the same type of buses purchased by the local government. The government purchased 53 buses at a cost of 13 million yuan.
Yang Jingjie contributed to this story