A coach with 49 people on board crashed head-on into a wall next to a highway tunnel entrance in northwestern China on Thursday night, killing 36 people and injuring 13 others, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The accident happened about a half-hour before midnight at the Qinling No. 1 Tunnel near Ankang, a city in Shaanxi province. The bus was traveling from the southwestern city of Chengdu to Henan province in central China, a long-distance journey of more than 12 hours.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, but net users were quick to point out that the design of the tunnel is flawed, as photos of the crash site show that the highway is significantly wider than the tunnel. The highway’s right-hand lane ends in a wall — right where the bus crashed.
“I think it’s the major reason behind this accident,” Qian Hongbo, an associate professor in the College of Transport and Communications at Shanghai Maritime University, told online outlet Tencent News on Friday, referring to the lack of precautionary measures to guide cars into the narrower tunnel. Qian suggested the highway guardrail be adjusted to line up with the edge of the tunnel, and that road markings be added to alert drivers to switch lanes.
The 6.1-kilometer Qinling No. 1 Tunnel opened in 2005, at the same time as two other long tunnels on the same stretch of the Xi’an-Hanzhong highway. Together, the three tunnels cover 17 kilometers and cost 1.55 billion yuan ($233 million) to construct.
The highway that runs through the mountainous Qinling area, a major east-west mountain range in the south of Shaanxi province, has several accident-prone spots. According to a white paper on Shaanxi province’s road system published earlier this year, the stretches of highway along the sides of the mountain range are full of bridges, tunnels, turns, and changes in elevation. The number of accidents near or inside the highway’s larger tunnels has declined in recent years, however, from 88 cases in 2012 to six in 2016.
Traffic-related deaths in China have gone down from a peak of 109,000 people in 2002 to 40,000 in 2016, according to government data.
Contributions: Chen Ronghui; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Rescue workers stand near the accident site at the Qinling No. 1 Tunnel near Ankang, Shaanxi province, Aug. 11, 2017. Xinhua)