Thirty-eight people, including children, died when a bus carrying 50 pilgrims returning from a weekend visit to the Padro Pio in Pietrelcina, Italy, crashed into six cars, broke through the guard rail, and then fell nearly 30 meters off a viaduct, reports la Repubblica. The accident occurred Sunday night in Avellino province on the road to Naples, according to Reuters, where at least 10 other people, including some car passengers, were injured in the crash.


BBC News reports that Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said there was no indication of technical problems and the vehicle had passed an inspection in March. Yet La Stampa reports that it is likely the bus was damaged before the crash occurred as parts of the transmission system were found on the ground more than a kilometer before the steep slope from which it fell. At the same time, there is talk of a problem with the brake system, and eye witnesses report a possible tire blowout, according to la Repubblica; the police have not yet recovered the black box and are still investigating.

"We first had to rescue the injured people who were trapped inside the coach and then successively have had to work to pull out the bodies," Alessio Barbarulo, fire brigade commander, told Reuters; he also said that ten people survived. His division coordinated the rescue effort.

La Stampa reports that among those who died, three were children, and among the injured, five were children, two in very serious condition.

The prosecutor's office has seized pictures of the accident taken by fixed cameras located along the motorway, reports la Repubblica. Local media, reports Reuters, said the stretch of road where the bus crashed had been the scene of repeated accidents. Investigators hope to determine the responsibility of the driver, who died in the crash, but also on the technical condition of the bus as well as proper signaling along the highway. The investigation will also look into the quality of the barrier that was destroyed by the bus.

Accidents Worldwide

According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the total number of road traffic deaths worldwide is 1.24 million per year. WHO estimates such fatalities to be the eighth leading cause of death globally, with an impact similar to that caused by malaria. Only 28 countries currently have comprehensive road safety laws that focus on the five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints. Italy is among the nations that have such regulations in place. People between the ages of 15 and 44 account for 59 percent of global road traffic deaths.

In Italy, specifically, 4,237 road fatalities were reported for 2009, of which 78 percent were men. It is most uncommon for road deaths to occur in buses, as bus passengers account for less than one percent of the total number of fatalities in Italy. Drivers of four-wheeled cars and light vehicles contribute 30 percent of the total, while riders of motorized two or three wheelers constitute another 30 percent of the total.

Since 2007, WHO reports that a 15-percent increase, worldwide, in the number of motorized vehicles has taken place. In part, this reflects a growing number of registered vehicles. Globally, there are now more than 1.6 billion registered vehicles — 47 percent of which are in high-income countries, 52 percent in middle income countries, and only one percent in low-income countries. Middle-income countries are motorizing most rapidly; today, more than half of the world's registered vehicles can be found in these countries, compared with 39 percent of the world's total three years ago.

Common Pilgrimage

The Shrine of Padre Pio from which the bus was returning is the second-most visited Catholic shrine in the world, according to the website devoted to this saint. The central attraction of the shrine is on the tomb of Padro Pio, a Capuchin friar, priest and mystic known for his devotion to God, care for the sick, and supernatural gifts. Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcino, Italy, and died in 1968. He reportedly received the spiritual mark of stigmata in 1918 while praying before a crucifix. "He is said to have bled from the five wounds of Christ for the rest of his life, which caused him great suffering and embarrassment," states the website. He was canonized in 2002.

Source: Global status report on road safety 2013: supporting a decade of action. World Health Organization Press. 2013.