Death Toll Hits 20 in Gansu School Bus Crash

20 people, including 18 preschool students, died Wednesday when a school bus collided with a coal truck in Gansu province, according a local work safety bureau official. From Xinhua News:

The accident happened around 9:40 a.m. in Yulinzi township of Zhengning county, according to a statement from the bureau. The statement said five people died at the scene, including four children and their bus driver, while 15 others, their teacher included, were confirmed dead by the afternoon.

The statement said another 44 children were injured in the accident and have been hospitalized. Twelve of the injured are in a serious condition.

The truck had a license plate from the neighboring province of Shaanxi and was carrying coal, the statement said.

The bureau has blamed overloading for the accident, stating that the bus — a van with nine seats — was carrying 64 people, most of whom were children from Yulinzi’s Little Doctor Kindergarten, a privately-run kindergarten located in the rural area

The incident comes just three weeks after a school bus in Xinjiang province collided with a van, injuring 19. Netizens responded to the news from Gansu with outrage as officials scrambled to the scene to offer support, according to Reuters:

“The nursery school can’t shirk responsibility for such serious overcrowding,” said one comment on Sina’s “Weibo” microblogging site.

Another said: “Why don’t we protect children in the same way we protect our leaders?”

Chinese authorities have tried to crack down on dangerous driving but breakneck economic growth, and rapid expansion in the number of roads and drivers, creates many menaces, especially on poorly policed rural roads.

In 2010, Chinese police officially recorded 219,521 traffic accidents that led to deaths or injuries, including 65,225 fatalities, a fall of 3.7 percent on the previous year.

While some comments were aimed at the school for putting the children in danger, an AP report in USA Today highlights online criticism of the government for not giving adequate funds to rural schools:

Chinese Twitter-like microblogs exploded in rage after Wednesday’s accident, registering more than 800,000 posts within hours of the news.

Particular ire was directed at government spending. Many made comparisons to the quality of U.S. school buses, some by attaching a photo purporting to show a Hummer smashed under the rear fender of a hardly dented school bus in Indianapolis. “Look at American school buses. … Our school buses are irresponsible when it comes to children’s lives,” ran the heading attached to many posts.

“Won’t this make the government wake up?” Zhang Zhen, an editor with the popular Dahe Bao newspaper, said on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblog service. He said the government should divert funds from public money spent on overseas travel, cars and receptions “to give middle, primary and nursery schools in poor areas more strong, decent and spacious school vehicles.”

See also previous CDT coverage of road safety in China and recent road accidents involving children, including a driver in Sichuan who ran over and killed a boy to avoid financial penalties, a child struck and killed in Shenzhen, and the tragic death of 2-year-old Yue Yue in an October hit-and-run incident in Guangdong.