Despite Regulations, Bus Travel Still Risky

Despite Regulations, Bus Travel Still Risky

Thirty-six people died recently on a Shaanxi province highway when a double-decker bus slammed into a fuel tanker.

The crash underscored ongoing demands for beefing up traffic law enforcement and improving the design of these often-crowded overnight buses, which transport nearly 180 million passengers in China every year.

Only three passengers emerged alive from the sleeper bus early August 26, when the long-distance bus collided with a truck methanol in Yan’an and burst into flames.

Authorities said a preliminary investigation found each of the bus’ two drivers were negligent. A GPS tracking service had sent them a fatigue warning just before the accident. Investigators say the driver behind the wheel was too tired.

On August 27, Shaanxi province Governor Zhao Zhengyong announced all sleeper buses would be banned from provincial roads at night for the next week while investigators probed the wreck.

Meanwhile, new questions have been raised about alleged manufacturing and design flaws in sleeper buses. Some are said to have too few emergency exits. Others are made with highly flammable materials in seat upholstery and curtains.

Migrant worker Wang Xianze, 50, was a survivor of the Yan’an crash. He planned to take the bus from Inner Mongolia to Xi’an, and then transfer to another sleeper to reach his destination, Chongqing.

When the accident occurred, Wang opened and climbed out of one of only two safety windows.

The dead included nine students, ten migrant laborers, thirteen employees of various companies, a self-employed person, and an unidentified person died, Yan’an authorities said. Both drivers perished as well.

Driving in Circles

AFP/Getty Images
In this scene from a 2011 accident, police inspect the burnt wreckage of a double-decker bus after the bus, which was carrying hazardous goods, caught fire on a highway in Xinyang, in north China’s Henan province. At least forty-one people died in the accident, while five passengers and the driver were pulled out alive from the overnight bus.

Between 2004 and 2010, 20 percent of all major traffic accidents nationwide in which more ten people died involved sleeper buses, according to the Ministry of Transportation.

Critics say regulators are quick to issue violation notices after such tragedies, but remain excruciatingly slow about enforcing safety laws.

The ministry released a notice in July 2011 that said every sleeper bus driver was required to stop driving after pulling over at a highway rest stop any day between 2 and 5 a.m. But only Jiangsu province authorities have taken clear steps toward making sure these central government safety regulations are being been followed, said a report in the Oriental Morning Post.

In March, the Ministry of Industry and Information and Technology and the Ministry of Public Security released a notice banning all production and sales of sleeper buses. They said sleeper buses would have to be taken off all roads in China within six years.

Meanwhile, though, this cheap and simple means of intercity travel remains highly popular for low-wage workers and others on a budget. A survey conducted last year by several government agencies found 60 percent of sleeper bus passengers were farmers and migrant laborers.

Currently more than 30,000 sleeper buses roll down China’s highways following more than 5,000 scheduled routes, the China Road Transport Association said.

After surviving the latest big crash, Wang was asked whether he would ever again ride a sleeper bus. “It depends,” he said.

Ren Zhongyuan, Luo Jieqi, and Liang Dongmei are Caixin staff reporters.


From the Caixin Editors

China is a nation of laws, authorities enjoy saying, and indeed government bookshelves are stuffed with them. But a toothless carnivore can’t eat much meat, and weak enforcement mechanisms have rendered all sorts of mainland regulations gnawingly ineffective. The problem is especially serious on increasingly busy back roads, where traffic safety and labor standards can be shrugged off. National laws setting working-time limits for bus drivers, for example, are clear and encompassing. But when no one with a badge is watching, which is usually and in most thinly populated areas, bus companies and drivers can feel free to ignore the laws. Occasionally, a brutal crash with fatalities occurs and forces authorities to rethink the rules. They can fine an erring bus company, imprison a driver, and add another page to a law book. But as the following report suggests, what’s needed most is enforcement.

By Ren Zhongyuan, Luo Jieqi, and Liang Dongmei



Caixin Media


China Eyes More Muscle for Market Supervision

from Caixin
Strengthening the People’s Bank of China’s regulatory clout is high on a list of suggestions for improving financial market oversight following last summer’s stock market crash.As supporters of the plan see it, no government institution is in a...

Caixin Media


Government Enlists NGOs to Help Homeless

from Caixin
Drivers roll up car windows as an autumn wind chills a traffic-clogged overpass in western Beijing’s Liuliqiao area. And under the concrete overpass, homeless people are gathering for a chilly night’s rest after wandering city streets.Among the...

Caixin Media


Mao’s ‘Proud Poplar’: Yang Kaihui

Sheila Melvin from Caixin
Yang Kaihui—who was killed 85 years ago this month—was the first of Mao Zedong’s three freely chosen wives. (Mao was forced by his parents to wed an older neighbor when he was just 14 but did not consider this a true marriage.) Yang’s dramatic, and...

Caixin Media


Does the Punishment Fit the Corruption?

from Caixin
After Chen Bokui, the deputy head of a government advisory body in the central province of Hubei, was convicted of taking 2.8 million yuan in bribes by a court in the eastern province of Fujian in April, he received a somewhat stiff sentence—17...

Caixin Media


Hemingway's Literary Escape

Sheila Melvin from Caixin
One noonday in 2002, a friendly acquaintance of mine—I’ll call him Q—left his office in a Beijing concert hall to go to lunch and never returned. After a series of inquiries, his wife and colleagues learned that he had been arrested. Various charges...

Caixin Media


Moving 2 Million People for Beijing’s Urban Reset

from Caixin
Nearly 2 million Beijing residents will be moved to the city’s outlying districts from the center by 2020 as part of a massive urban revamp designed to better control people, traffic, and smog.The movers include up to 1 million government workers...

Caixin Media


Insider Trading Is Hindering Development of Stock Market

from Caixin
A series of investigations into apparent market violations emerged after the recent stock market turmoil, bringing down Zhang Yujun, an assistant chairman at the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC); Cheng Boming, general manager of CITIC...

Caixin Media


Authorities Should Do More to Protect China’s Lawyers

from Caixin
A Communist Party group led by General Secretary Xi Jinping that was established to spearhead reform efforts finished a document on September 15 addressing the plight of lawyers. A day later, top judicial authorities, including the Supreme People...

Caixin Media


Xi and Obama Should Make a BIT Breakthrough

from Caixin
President Xi Jinping has begun his first state visit to the United States to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in what state councilor and former foreign minister Yang Jiechi has called “a pivotal meeting at a critical time.”Xi arrived in the United...

Caixin Media


Chinese Contractor Finds Project in Bahamas Is No Day at Beach

from Caixin
A giant luxury resort planned on a beach outside the Bahamas’ capital, Nassau, that is supposed to be a showpiece to help China’s largest construction company tap the U.S. market has become a headache for both its builder and a lender.The resort was...