The worst bus accident in Morocco’s history has killed at least 42 people after a vehicle plunged into a ravine in the Atlas Mountains in the southern part of the country on Tuesday.
Another 25 people were injured and taken to various local hospitals.
According to a report from Agence France Presse (AFP), the crash occurred when the bus slipped off a principal road at 2 a.m (local time), in the province of Haouz, 60 miles south of Marrakesh, a popular tourist site.
The bus is believed to have plunged just after it crossed the Tizi-n-Tichka pass, the highest in Morocco. The road meanders through mountains for dozens of miles in the area.
Morocco's Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP) news agency reported that the bus fell 165 yards into the ravine.
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Apparently, all the victims were Moroccans.
"But we are still in the process of identifying the bodies, as well as the injured," a local official told AFP.
It is not clear what caused the crash, however the country’s transport ministry believes the vehicle was overloaded and only had a capacity to hold about 54 people.
Just last month, eight people were killed when a truck overturned in Haouz. In July, another dozen people died when a truck driver lost control of his vehicle and smashed into a bus.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI expressed his “most saddened condolences” to the victims’ families and said the palace will pay for transport, funeral and burial costs.
The previous worst bus crash in the North African kingdom involved the drowning of 24 people when a bus carrying laborers fell into a river near the city of Rabat, the capital, in November 2010.
Morocco has one of the world’s highest rates of traffic fatalities.
According to the transport ministry, about 4200 people died last year in road accidents, an 11.6 percent jump from 2010
Thousands of others are annually wounded in such incidents.
For a country whose total population is only 32 million, these are alarming numbers. In the United States, which has a population in excess of 300 million, there were about 33,000 traffic fatalities in 2010.
Tourists who visit Morocco are warned of the dangers of travelling along the country’s roads.
The British Foreign Office advised its nationals who plan on visiting Morocco that “accidents are especially frequent on busy major routes but also on narrower secondary roads. All drivers should take extra care when overtaking, particularly where there are no hard shoulders.”
Traffic accidents tend to peak between May and August, when the tourist season is in full swing.
The situation is so bad that the Moroccan transport ministry estimated that the social costs related to road accidents and fatalities amount to some 2.5 percent of the country’s annual GDP.
The al-Bawaba news agency indicated that much of the carnage on Morocco’s roads and highways can be attributed to inattentive and aggressive drivers. In 2007, the government imposed a series of steep fines on driving infractions.
However, the poor conditions of Moroccan roads have also played a role in this deadly saga.
Speed limits and seat belt laws applied by the government have failed to reduce the number of deaths and injuries.
The U.S. State Department said of Moroccan traffic: “Congested streets are characteristic of urban driving. Drivers should also exercise extreme caution when driving at night due to poor lighting systems along roads. Traffic signals do not always function, and are sometimes difficult to see.”
The U.S. government agency added: “Secondary routes in rural areas are often narrow and poorly paved. Roads through the Rif and Atlas mountains are steep, narrow, windy, and dangerous… Pedestrians, scooters, and animal-drawn conveyances are common on all roadways, including the freeways, and driving at night should be avoided, if possible. During the rainy season (November - March) flash flooding is frequent and sometimes severe, washing away roads and vehicles in rural areas.”
Interestingly, since alcohol in generally banned in the Islamic state, drinking accounts for a very small proportion of road accidents in Morocco (about 3 percent, according to the Global Road Safety Partnership).