There should be no happier time on the mainland than the Lunar New Year holiday, a week of family get-togethers and relaxation. But for too many people, it is also a tragic occasion as road accidents claim lives and cause injuries. With so many on the move at the same time in sometimes poor driving conditions, mishaps are inevitable. But better enforcement of rules, a keener awareness of safety, and improved use of the broadcast media to give alerts and warnings would go a long way to making the occasion less grim.
A record average of 77.4 million trips in private cars and buses are expected to be made each day of this Lunar New Year, 9 per cent more than last year. Most are being made by migrant workers, weary after a year of toil and eager to quickly get to their family homes. So many vehicles in a hurry, invariably negotiating narrow roads, at times in snow or smog, make for a deadly mix in a country with so poor a road safety record. Over just three days from last Friday to Sunday, more than 50 people lost their lives in a series of horrific accidents.
A bus in Gansu province plunged into a ravine and burst into flames, killing 18 people. Another 11 died when a bus carrying 29 flipped and crashed down a steep slope in Sichuan province. On Saturday, 12 more lost their lives in another bus accident in Guizhou province, while five deaths were recorded when a tanker collided with 10 cars in Guangdong. Overcrowding, speeding and poor safety were among the causes cited by investigators.
The mainland's rapid motorisation is the underlying reason for an annual road death toll that in 2011 was 62,000 - 90 per cent more than the US, which has three times as many vehicles. Poor driver training, a lack of safety awareness, inferior infrastructure standards, and insufficient regulation and enforcement ensure shocking numbers. Making roads safer will take time, but drivers and authorities have a duty to take extra care during busy travel periods. They owe it to themselves, their passengers and the nation on so important an occasion.