Accidents renew debate over school bus safety

Updated: 2012-02-20 07:38

By An Baijie and Xiang Mingchao (China Daily)

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ZHENGZHOU - Two accidents on Friday involving vans carrying commuting students, in which at least three children were killed, have brought school bus safety back into the spotlight.

A van carrying 15 students collided with a bus on Friday afternoon in Central China's Henan province, leaving at least one student dead and 13 injured, the local government said on Sunday. None of the bus passengers were injured.

All of the 13 injured students, including two with serious injuries, were listed as being in stable condition on Sunday after hospital treatment, the publicity department of the county said in a statement.

The collision occurred at about 1 pm at a crossing in Luyi county. All of the passengers in the van were students from the local Beiguan Primary School.

The driver of the van fled after the accident and was later taken into police custody, the statement said.

The statement did not elaborate on the cause of the accident. But an official from the county's education bureau said on condition of anonymity that the van appears to have been overloaded.

"Usually, a van is licensed to carry at most eight passengers. However, this one carried 15 passengers and a driver," said the official.

The school is located in an urban area and most students live nearby. But some students are from remote areas and must travel between the school and their homes at the weekend. Among those were a 12-year-old girl in the sixth grade, who was killed in the accident, according to the official.

Angry relatives of the girl protested on Saturday outside the gate of the school, where they left wreaths and a coffin. The protest lasted until late at night.

Wanyan Sixin, a local rural resident whose son and daughter attend the school, said parents like him send their children to urban schools far away from home, because they want the children to get a better education.

"Most students in my village study at rural schools near home. But I would rather send my children to an urban school, where the education is definitely better," he said.

As their home is eight kilometers from school, Wanyan's children live in a teacher's house during the week and return home twice a month for the weekend. Wanyan said he had started picking them up with his motorcycle for fear of traffic accidents.

Many netizens expressed sadness over the girl's death.

Sun Yueqing, a bus driver at the Zhengzhou Public Transportation Co, called on netizens to donate for the county to buy a school bus.

"I would like to donate 500 yuan ($80), and please forward my post if you agree," Sun said in his verified micro blog on "It's heartbreaking news that such an accident occurred in my hometown."

Also on Friday, in a separate case, a van carrying seven middle school students fell into a river in Xunyang county, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, killing the driver and two students and leaving another six injured, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The two accidents added to the concern over the safety of school transportation, triggered by a series of fatal school bus accidents last year.

The worst accident was in November, when 21 people - 19 children, a driver and a teacher - died when their nine-seat vehicle, which was actually carrying 62 children, crashed in Gansu province.

After these tragedies, the central government decided to draft safety standards for school buses.

School buses were also given the right of way in traffic, and all school buses were ordered to have global positioning systems by 2015, under the 12th Five-Year Plan on Road Traffic Safety (2011-15) issued by the Work Safety Committee Office of the State Council in January.

The plan also said that every seat in school buses must be equipped with seat belts by 2013 to reduce accident-related deaths, Xinhua reported.

The Ministry of Education also pledged in January to set up a nationwide school bus standard before the end of this year and establish a boarding school system in rural areas, the Beijing News reported.