Friday, April 20, 2012

Bolivia: Rural Bus Plunges Off Cliff After Brakes Fail, 18 Killed, 31 Injured

According to an AFP report, 18 passengers aboard a rural bus that originated in La Paz and was destined for the Yungas region were killed on Wednesday (April 20) when the brakes on the bus failed and the bus plunged some 656-feet (200 meters) off a mountain road.

Thirty-one others were also injured, many in critical condition. The "accident" occurred some 46 miles (76 kilometers) from the capital. The injured were taken to a La Paz hospital.

COMMENT: The accident occurred on a route known popularly as the “Highway of Death” due to the frequent accidents involving buses and trucks that plunge into ravines and off cliffs on the narrow, winding road.

Passengers that were on the bus reported that the vehicle's brakes apparently failed. Simultaneously, the driver and his assistants jumped to safety from the vehicle before it left the roadway.

Having worked in Bolivia for a number of years, I can honestly tell our readers that it has one of the highest motor vehicle fatality rates in the world. Although treacherous terrain is one risk to reckon with, it is also commonplace for commercial drivers to drink while on duty and for buses, in particular, to be poorly maintained.

President Evo Morales’s administration enacted a law in January 2010 that cracked down on bus drivers caught working drunk, inexperienced drivers and drivers who work excessive hours. That being said, little has changed because of poor or non-existent enforcement.

For travelers and tourists who visit Bolivia, my suggestion is to avoid rural buses completely and hire reputable drivers and vehicles in La Paz, with a relief driver if necessary. It is far better to pay more and live than to save money and die.

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