Accident a call for action to protect kids

Updated: 2014-07-12 07:54

By Zhang Zhouxiang (China Daily)

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The death of eight kindergarten students in an accident in Xiangtan, Hunan province, on Thursday is both shocking and tragic. The minivan carrying the children home from school in the mountainous region skidded off the road and plunged into a pond, killing all 11 occupants including two teachers and the driver.

This is not the first accident of its kind. Going by media reports, more than a dozen "grave accidents" involving school buses or minivans have taken place in the country in the past four years. These accidents have not only claimed dozens of young lives, but also left scores of children permanently disabled and their families living in pain.

A look into the accidents reveals some common features: most of them have taken place in rural areas and involved overloaded vehicles and untrained drivers. For example, the minivan in Xiangtan was carrying 11 people when it had the standard capacity for only seven, and the driver didn't have enough experience of driving in mountainous terrains.

There are calls for stricter supervision every time such an accident takes place, but after some time its business returns usual again. Many accidents could have been prevented had law enforcement officers intervened and prevented buses and minivans from carrying more people than their capacity and banned the hiring of unqualified drivers. Family members of the Xiangtan victims and local residents said the minivan involved in the accident was "often overloaded" but no police officer ever pulled up the driver for breaking traffic rules.

But supervision cannot become effective without adequate funding, especially in the vast rural areas in dire need of development. Parents as well as school officials know that an overloaded shuttle vehicle with an untrained driver at the wheel is dangerous, but in many rural areas they don't have the funds to replace such vehicles. Children are packed into vans because few vehicles are available to ferry them to and from school.

To prevent such tragedies, therefore, the government needs to allocate more funds for education in rural areas. Official figures show that the per capita gap in the allocation of educational funds to urban and rural areas was about 700 yuan ($112) in 2011.

If lack of enough funds prevents the government from allocating resources equally to rural and urban schools, it should at least consider providing public shuttle services for pupils in rural areas. The Xiangtan tragedy once again calls for immediate action to prevent such accidents, because it has not only claimed 11 lives, but also ruined 11 families.

The author is a writer with China Daily. zhangzhouxiang@chinadaily.com.cn

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