From Peru, with bus accidents
This bus crash in Peru in June, 2013, left 30 dead. (Julio Quinto /Efe.)
They sometimes say that the news from Peru consists in roughly equal measure of drug busts and bus crashes.
Unfortunately, they seem to be fairly close to the mark – at least when it comes to bus crashes.
Just consider some recent headlines.
Dec. 19, 2013: 11 Killed in Peru Bus Crash.
Oct. 13, 2013: Bus Falls Off Cliff in Peru, Killing All 51 People On Board.
Oct. 7, 2013: Horror As Peru Bus Crash Kills 19, Including Two Children.
July 12, 2013: Fatal Bus Crash in Peru.
June 20, 2013: Bus Crash in Peru Leaves 30 Dead.
April 14, 2013: Peru Bus Crash Kills At Least 30.
The list goes on (and on), but you get the picture.
“Local and long-distance buses alike can be a risk to your personal safety, as fatal accidents are not unusual in Peru,” warns the Lonely Planet travel guide to the country.
According to a 2011 report in The Peruvian Times, automobile accidents in the Andean nation were occurring at a rate of about 200 a day between 2000 and 2010, causing 3,243 deaths in 2009 alone. (Nearly 50,000 people were injured during the same period.)
Not all of these accidents involved buses by any means, but it’s a fair bet that more than a few of them did.
Of course, fatal bus accidents tend to attract what may be disproportionate attention – at least compared to more frequent mishaps involving smaller vehicles – because the death tolls from bus crashes do tend to be high.
The good news, for some people, is that not all Peruvian bus lines were created equal. If you plan on traveling around the country by bus, stick to the high-end companies, said to include Cruz del Sur, Ormeño, and Oltursa, among several others. Their safety records are reported to be pretty good.
That is not much comfort to impoverished Peruvians who have little choice but to brave the cheap seats on older vehicles in dubious repair, piloted by inexperienced or reckless or possibly exhausted (inebriated?) drivers.
The Peruvian Ministry of Transport and Communications publishes a list of the 50 worst-offending inter-city bus lines in the country, although it is a little out of date. Based on the record from mid-2007 to mid-2008, however, you should absolutely avoid Tarapoto Tours S.A.C. (eight buses, five accidents, 49 killed, 22 injured), as well as Empresa de Transportes Flores Hermanos Ltda. (299 buses, 23 accidents, 16 dead, 155 injured), among many others.
Peru isn’t the only country in the world with unsafe buses, and it probably isn’t even the most dangerous. There are plenty of contenders, especially in the world’s more impoverished regions. A 2011 report by American broadcaster NBC – citing the World Health Organization – said that nine out of 10 road deaths occur in low- to middle-income countries.
An investigation conducted earlier this year by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting includes an inter-active map showing the annual road-related death rate per 100,000 population of most of the world’s countries. (Note: these figures are not just for fatal bus accidents, but for all deaths on the road.) According to these figures, Peru’s roads (with an annual death rate of 15.9 per 100,000 population) are not as dangerous as those of other poor countries in the Americas or elsewhere and are actually safer than other Andean countries such as Bolivia (19.2) or Ecuador (27).
So it’s probably unfair to gang up on Peru.
The real moral of this story probably applies more or less equally in just about any land (but perhaps especially in countries with lots of mountainous roads): When it comes to choosing which bus company to use, do some research – and don’t scrimp on the fare.
Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.