New school bus rules proposed
The Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council posted a draft of new school bus safety regulations online yesterday for a month of public consultation, amid an ongoing public outcry after 19 kindergarten pupils were killed in a school bus crash in Gansu province last month.
Under the new draft guidelines, school buses would be given preferential treatment by traffic police in general road access and in access to lanes reserved for public transport.
And when a school bus pulls over for pupils to get on or off, vehicles behind it should stop and wait rather than overtake the bus, the draft says.
The document comes in response to the crash on November 16 in Gansu's impoverished Zhengning county. A total of 62 preschool pupils were packed into a nine-seater bus that had its seats removed, and the bus collided head-on with a truck. A teacher and the driver were killed along with the 19 students.
The tragedy underscored the sad state of school buses on the mainland and the lack of legislation that has led to little oversight and accountability, as well as poor funding, particularly in rural areas.
Regional governments at the county level and above would be held accountable under the proposed regulations, while local police and school authorities would be tasked with matters concerning school bus licensing and the accreditation of drivers.
However, on national school bus funding, the draft legislation says only that the central government will work out cost-sharing plans and tax incentives for regional governments.
A previous document on national standards for technical safeguards involving primary school buses failed to get off the ground last year owing to little enforcement and commitment from regional governments.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the new draft regulation is a more enforceable and legally binding document backed by the State Council, but he said it also fails to address the core issue of rampant safety violations involving school buses on the mainland or the government's general lack of commitment in providing funding for the buses.
Xiong said that a lack of leadership was underscored in the draft by a reference to a 'public consensus' over potentially higher safety risks for pupils travelling long distances on school buses. Instead, he said, the regulation calls on regional governments to ensure that pupils do not have to travel far for school.
'The document serves to tackle safety risks, but instead it [merely] tries to highlight the risks,' he said.
The reality is that more rural pupils are forced to rely on school buses to get to far-off township and county schools, after a push by the Ministry of Education nine years ago to close rural village schools amid dwindling enrolment and as urbanisation has drastically cut the number of schools in the past decade.