CHANGSHA: A fatal kindergarten bus accident struck a nerve in China where school bus safety is a sensitive issue, especially in rural areas.
Eleven people, including eight children, died when an overloaded minivan used as a school bus fell into a pond in central China’s Hunan Province on Thursday, local authorities said on Friday. The accident occurred at about 5 p.m. in Ganzi Village near Changsha, capital of Hunan, when the minivan was carrying children home from Lelewang Kindergarten in the city of Xiangtan, adjacent to Changsha.
Besides the children, the driver and two teachers, aged 18 and 51, were also killed, said Wang Kemin, head of the provincial education department. An initial investigation has suggested overloading and use of an unauthorized route as two major causes of the accident, said Ge Jianzhong, deputy director of Hunan Provincial Education Department.
The minivan, with a designed capacity of eight, left the school with fifteen people aboard. Four children got off at previous stops. The accident occurred on a section of the road which was not part of the authorized route and was not immediately discovered as the scene is remote and sparsely populated. The driver, who only took up the job a few days before, was not familiar with the route and lacked training, said Li Youzhi, vice governor of Hunan.
The minivan was finally hauled out of the pond at around 3 a.m. Friday, with the bodies of the eight children and driver inside. Those of the two teachers were found about an hour later. “It is common for the bus to be overloaded,” the father of one of the children aboard told Xinhua. “The road is not suitable for school buses. There are no warning markings on the bumpy road and no fence between the pond and road.” Parents have no choice but to rely on the bus to take their kids to and from schools which are mostly some distance from their homes. Rural school buses frequently take unauthorized routes, and it is difficult for authorities to monitor their whole journeys.
The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on Friday issued a warning, urging local authorities to check risks on roads that school buses take, and strengthen punishment for overloading, speeding and fatigued drivers. Hunan will overhaul all school buses and examine the documentation of all drivers to avoid similar tragedies. The traffic authority and education departments will send information about the case to every school, kindergarten and other persons concerned.
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