Bus driver flees after deadly crash

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Bangkok -

Fifteen people, including 13 children, were killed when a bus carrying students on a trip to the seaside collided with a lorry in eastern Thailand on Friday, police said.

The smash is the latest in a series of deadly accidents involving buses in Thailand, where roads are among the most dangerous in the world.

Forty-seven others were injured in the pre-dawn accident in Prachinburi province involving a double-decker bus and an 18-wheel truck, the authorities said.

The students, aged between 10 to 14 years old, were heading to the resort city of Pattaya from the north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.

Twenty-three of those hurt are in hospital with injuries including broken arms and legs, the Public Health Ministry said.

A row of bodies covered by sheets was seen laid out by the side of the wreckage of the bus, whose top deck was crushed on one side.

Police said the bus driver had fled the scene of the crash - a relatively common occurrence in Thailand, where safety standards are generally poor.

The cause of the accident has not yet been established, but the authorities suspect human error or a mechanical problem.

“The bus's brakes may have failed or the driver might have fallen asleep,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Anukarn Thamvijarn said by telephone.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation said Thailand saw 38 road deaths per 100 000 people in 2010 - behind only the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean and the South Pacific island of Niue.

That compares with an average of 18.5 in Southeast Asia as a whole.

Friday's accident happened on a narrow stretch of road that cannot be widened because it cuts through a national park, said Nuttapong Boontob of the non-profit Thailand Accident Research Centre.

“The road is always busy with big trucks as it links the north-eastern region and the eastern seaboard where there are many industrial estates,” he said.

Roughly 60 percent of traffic accidents in Thailand are caused by human error, according to Nuttapong, with poor road and vehicle conditions posing additional hazards.

Bus operators are required to provide seat belts, but passengers are not legally obliged to use them.

In December dozens of people were killed when a bus carrying New Year travellers plunged off one of Thailand's highest bridges in the kingdom's north-east.

At least 20 people were killed in October when a tour bus carrying elderly Buddhist devotees fell into a ravine, also in the northeast. - Sapa-AFP

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