Forty-seven people died in two separate traffic accidents in China on Sunday, according to state media, underscoring recent concerns about the country's road-safety record.
While fatalities on Chinese roads have been creeping downward in recent years, traffic accidents continue to rank among the leading causes of death in the country, leading to calls from Chinese citizens and international organizations for China to step up road safety.
In the first accident, 36 people were killed when a bus collided with a tanker carrying methanol in China's northwestern Shaanxi province. The double-decker sleeper bus smashed into the rear of the tanker near the city of Yan'an at about 2 a.m. Sunday, triggering a fire that killed all but three of the passengers on the bus, according to reports by the state-run Xinhua news agency, citing local police.
Xinhua reported that the three survivors from the bus suffered injuries but it didn't elaborate whether they were life-threatening. The bus had a capacity of 39 passengers. State media said the driver of the tanker and a co-passenger were unharmed.
Images from the crash site showed the burned-out shell of the bus. The tanker, including the driver's compartment, appeared intact.
A police officer surnamed Xue with the Yan'an municipal police bureau declined to elaborate on the accident. A person at the highway police station said he didn't have details of the incident and declined to give the contact details of officers investigating the crash.
In the second accident, 11 people were killed Sunday afternoon when a van carrying 12 people crashed into a heavy-duty truck on an expressway in southwest China's Sichuan province. Xinhua said 10 were dead at the scene and one of the two others involved later died at a nearby hospital. The truck was on the side of the road for a tire repair when the van rear-ended it, according to local work-safety authorities quoted by Xinhua.
The accidents followed a bridge collapse Friday in the northern city of Harbin, which killed three people and injured five, underscoring related concerns over the state of China's quickly built infrastructure. The incident was one of at least six highway-bridge collapses in China since July 2011, Xinhua said.
Statistics regarding total traffic deaths in China are often incomplete and can differ widely depending on the calculation methodology.
Data from the Traffic Administration Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, a source of traffic-accident-related data, show 25,864 people died on Chinese roads in the first half of last year, the latest period for which comparable information was available on its website. This was down 5.2% from 27,270 in the year-earlier period.
The number of people injured fell 9.1% to 106,370 in the first half of 2011 from 116,982 in the year-earlier period. Direct cost of damage to property as a result of these accidents increased 7.3% to 440 million yuan ($69.2 million) from 410 million yuan in the year-earlier period, the data showed.
By comparison, 32,310 people died from road accidents in the U.S. last year, according to preliminary data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But the U.S. had about 240 million registered vehicles last year, according to analysis from Ward's Auto, while China had roughly one-third as many.
Chinese citizens voiced concern about the recent spate of road-safety and infrastructure-related accidents.
One user of the Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo wrote, "So many big accidents are taking place at such a high pace. We have already become the onlookers of such mishaps. The dead are dead already. What are those who are still alive supposed to do?"
Others expressed anger at what one poster described as the country's "backward highway management mechanism and system" and questioned why China didn't have regulations requiring regular rest breaks for drivers and speed limits for buses, similar to those in place in some European countries. "Why can't we learn such simple stuff?" the person asked.