At least four students were killed and three seriously injured last night, when a bus carrying them to exams plunged more than 30 metres off a notorious section of road in Yongzhou city, Hunan province.
The bus - with 46 students, a teacher and a driver on board - lost control on the Chashu county section of Yonglian Highway and fell into a ravine, Xinhua said. It was one of four coaches travelling from Normal College in Daoxian county for public exams in Yongzhou.
Two of the students were pronounced dead at the scene, while the other two died en route to the affiliated hospital of Yongzhou Vocational and Technical College, Xinhua reported last night.
The Yongzhou government said three students were seriously injured, with the rest in stable condition. Xinhua said all the injured were in their early 20s.
A Normal College teacher said 171 students were travelling to attend self-taught higher education examinations. Such self-taught examinations provide a gateway to bachelor's degree programmes for students who have not attended traditional universities.
The teacher, who was not on the trip, said the bus did not collide with other vehicles and did not appear to slow down before going off the road. It had a capacity of 49.
The meandering, 165-kilometre Yonglian Highway, which links Yongzhou to Lianzhou city in northern Guangdong, has been dubbed the "road of danger" by local drivers and residents due to the high number of crashes since it opened in 2003.
More than 170 people have been killed on the highway in the past three years alone, the Yongzhou Daily reported last month. The road has seen more than 5,000 collisions in that time. Municipal authorities have pledged to improve the road.
On Wednesday, another seven people were killed and more than 20 injured on a Ningyuan county section of the highway after a truck collided with a passenger bus.
Residents who live nearby blame the problems on sloppy construction and substandard materials. The road surface is so poor and lumpy locals have dubbed it "tofu road".
"Even where it looks OK on the surface, underneath it is trash," said Zhou Ying, a Hunan resident who has driven the road several times.
The 1.1 billion yuan (HK$1.35 billion) construction of the highway has factored in several corruption cases, leading to the conviction of at least three senior provincial officials. Among them was Wang Daosheng, Hunan's former deputy secretary general, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2004, local media said.