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2018-07-02 12:51:33

The company operating the passenger coach involved in Friday’s deadly highway collision in central China has urged media outlets to refrain from making “irresponsible remarks” following reports of driver fatigue.

Eighteen people were killed and another 14 injured when the Pingyu County-bound bus carrying 31 passengers collided with a truck in Hunan province, spilling flammable cyclohexanone on the highway. The condition of the two drivers has not been revealed.

Huang Shengli, a legal representative from the Pingyu branch of Zhumadian Transportation Co. Ltd., said the cause of the accident is still under investigation. “Don’t make irresponsible remarks,” Huang told Sixth Tone on Monday, refusing to reveal additional details about the accident.

Huang’s comment comes after several media outlets reported on the transportation company’s poor driving record, citing frequent warnings from local police for violating traffic rules. Screenshots of Pingyu traffic police’s Weibo microblog show that since December, several warnings for fatigue driving had been issued to the license plate of the bus involved in the accident. By Monday, the bureau’s posts about the company were no longer online.

In its latest warning in April, the police urged the transport company to punish employees found violating driving rules and to educate its drivers about the dangers of fatigue driving.

An employee surnamed Li at Pingyu’s traffic police bureau told Sixth Tone that the police are investigating the cause of the accident but said he could not provide further details, as those in charge of the investigation were not in the office.

Despite there being no confirmation of the collision’s cause, Friday’s accident on the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway — one of the country’s busiest transportation routes — has once again drawn public attention to fatigue driving as a major cause of road fatalities. In June 2016, 36 passengers were killed on the same stretch of the highway in one of the deadliest accidents linked to driver fatigue.

Although drowsy driving is a global safety issue, the problem is more alarming in China given the high death toll on the roads: Last year, the country’s transportation authority reported over 63,000 road traffic deaths in 2016 — the second-highest death toll in the world after that of India. A 2010 study by transportation experts at Chang’an University found fatigue driving to be the leading cause of highway accidents, among other factors such as speeding and illegal lane changing.

In 2012, China’s cabinet issued a guideline on road traffic safety, recommending time limits for drivers. The country’s Road Traffic Safety Law also forbids drivers from taking the wheel when drowsy. However, many say that these guidelines aren’t strictly enforced or monitored, resulting in accidents.

“Laws and regulations should be harsher, and the law should address the problem of fatigue driving in the same way as drunk driving,” a commentary from a Shanghai-based news outlet said in response to the accident. “There should be more serious punishments than compulsory [rest] once fatigue driving is exposed.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: The crane lifts the crushed bus at the car accident scene in Hengyang, Hunan province, June 30, 2018. An Xin/IC)