(May 2, 2012) Since November 2011, the Chinese government has faced strong criticism due to media reports of a number of fatal school bus crashes that resulted from passenger overloads and the use of substandard vehicles and unqualified drivers. In one of the accidents, 21 kindergarteners were killed in a nine-seat minivan, illegally crammed with 64 people, that collided with a truck. A month later, 15 children were reported dead after a school bus in which they were riding rolled over when the driver lost control of the vehicle. (Andrew Jacobs, Half-Filled School Bus Crashes in China, Killing 15 Children, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Dec. 13, 2011).) In order to curb increasing public outrage and prevent future tragedies, the State Council enacted the Regulations on the Administration of School Bus Safety, which came into effect on the date of promulgation, April 5, 2012. (Xiaoche Anquan Guanli Tiaoli, the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China website (Apr. 10, 2012).)
A school bus in the new Regulations is defined as a passenger vehicle with seven seats or more used for the purpose of transporting students receiving compulsory education (mainly primary and junior middle-school students) to and from school. (Id. art. 2.) Under the Regulations, local governments at the county level and above are the competent authorities in charge of school bus administration. Their tasks include (1) formulating and adjusting locations of schools in their administration jurisdiction to ensure that students will go to school in their own neighborhoods or in boarding schools, so as to reduce risks arising from long bus rides; (2) setting up routes and station sites for the convenience of students who require transportation; and (3) providing students in rural areas with access to school bus services (SBS). (Id. art. 3.)
Schools, public enterprises, private enterprises and even individuals are all permitted to provide SBS in accordance with laws. (Id. art. 9.) However, a service provider must obtain a license before rendering SBS, based upon its meeting a list of conditions. That is, the provider must have:
- satisfied the national standards for safe school buses and obtained a motor vehicle inspection certificate;
- registered with the traffic control department of the local public security organ;
- hired licensed drivers;
- set up a reasonable and feasible scheme for running SBS, including the determination of routes, hours of operation, and the location of bus stops;
- established a sound safety administration system; and
- purchased motor vehicle carrier liability insurance. (Id. art. 14.)
The Regulations provide for various financial sources for purchasing and maintaining SBS, including government subsidy, tax incentives, and public donations. (Id. art. 3.) The government appropriations for SBS will be shared by the central government and local governments in accordance with measures formulated by the Ministry of Finance. (Id.) However, thus far, how these funds will be allocated between the central and local governments is unclear.
By authority of the Regulations and shortly after their promulgation, the State Administration for Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine, coupled with the Standardization Administration of China, jointly issued two related documents: the “Safety Technique Specifications of Special School Buses” (Specifications (promulgated on Apr. 10, 2012, and effective on May 1, 2012) [in Chinese], Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) website) and “The Strength of Student Seat Systems and Their Anchorages of Special School Bus” (promulgated on Apr. 10, 2012, and effective on May 1, 2012) [in Chinese], MIIT website). These documents set forth measurable national standards of technical specifications for school buses, applicable not only to vehicles for primary and junior middle school students, but also to those that transport pre-schoolers above three years of age who are not explicitly protected by the Regulations. (Id. & Specifications, supra.)
Prepared by Rong Xiang, Foreign Law Research Consultant, under the guidance of Kelly Buchanan, Chief, Foreign, Comparative and International Law (FCIL) I. Ms. Xiang has a Bachelor of Laws degree from Nanjing University in China and an LL.M degree from the City University of Hong Kong. She recently earned an LL.M. in International Business Law from The American University Washington College of Law.