Safety issues with school buses in China were back in the spotlight again this week after a crash killed 11 kindergartners and their driver.
The vehicle, actually an unmarked gray minivan, was hit Wednesday by a truck in the eastern province of Shandong about 290 miles southeast of Beijing. At the time of the accident, the eight-seat vehicle was carrying 14 children and one adult. Three children from the private kindergarten in Chaoshuisi village were listed in stable condition after being rushed to a hospital.
Among the dead was a 6-year-old named Linlin, whose parents paid $25 a month for the transportation service. The boy was picked up at 7:10 a.m., and 40 minutes later, his uncle, Yu Jiantao, got the heartbreaking news.
“How can they use such a minivan to carry 14 students?” Yu said on his QQ social media account. “The school is really trying to fool everyone.”
The kindergarten is one of the largest in the area and many parents wanted to send their children there because it was the only school that offered a vehicle to pick up its students, the Beijing News reported.
“The safety of the school bus didn’t even cross our mind when we chose this kindergarten,” Yu told the newspaper.
A series of fatal crashes involving school buses in 2011 caused a huge uproar in China, with many people questioning the lack of regulation.
Wen Jiabao, China’s premier at the time, vowed to draft safety regulations for school buses within a month.
A national standard for school buses was introduced in May 2012, requiring all such vehicles to be clearly marked and licensed by the government. Unlicensed vehicles used as school buses were to be confiscated and the companies or individuals operating the vehicles were to face fines of as much as $3,265. Local officials, meanwhile, were to be held responsible for failing to supervise school bus usage.
After a crash killed 19 kindergarten children in west China’s Gansu province in November 2011, three officials from the local education bureau faced negligence charges. Guilty verdicts were upheld for all three officials in July 2014 and one of the officials was sentenced to three years in prison, though he was given a five-year reprieve.
Despite such efforts from authorities, school buses for private schools remain a source of concern. In underdeveloped areas such as Chaoshuisi village, private schools have become popular among parents as public schools simply cannot handle the large numbers of school-age students in the region.
After Wednesday’s accident, Internet users questioned the government’s priorities and commitment to provide safe school buses for children.
“After spending billions of dollars on the APEC summit, Chinese authorities may be too poor to buy safe school buses for school children in the country,” one user of the Beijing-based Weibo social media website wrote in a post, citing this month's gathering in Beijing of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group.
Tommy Yang in the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.