Signs that bad driving is finally getting the red light in China
Beijing Letter:Driving in China is still a tough call. While it is not quite the terrifying experience it used to be, it remains to be seen if a raft of new traffic rules will make things better or worse.
The days when you could see the tarmac beneath your feet whizzing past through holes in the floor of a Beijing taxi are gone. And the sight of people reversing on the exit ramp to the dual carriageway is becoming rarer. It still happens a lot but is definitely less frequent.
As anyone who has been to Beijing will tell you, driving habits can be at best eccentric and at worst downright terrifying. But in eight years in China, the situation has been improving, and the latest step has been to start enforcing the rules of the road.
Will it work? One law looks almost certain to cause chaos. Drivers are legally obliged to stop at amber traffic lights as if they were red lights.
Run an amber light twice and you have to resit your test.
The new rules forbid U-turns on the highway and also try to stop people driving on the lay-by to overtake traffic jams.
70,000 deaths each year
According to the Ministry of Public Security, 70,000 people a year die and 300,000 others are injured in road collisions and incidents every year. In the first 10 months of last year, nearly 800 people were killed by drivers breaking red lights.
China has 238 million motorised vehicles and 256 million drivers, and the numbers are rising every year by more than 16 million vehicles and 20 million drivers during the past five years.
The situation is improving, but there is a lot of work to do.
“Many Chinese drive cars as if they are riding a bike,” Liu Pan, professor and researcher on road safety at Southeast University, told the China Daily.
Motorists will beep their horn angrily at pedestrians crossing the road on a green light at a crossing, and if you’re on foot, the rule is basically that you have to give way to cars at all times. They are bigger than you, after all.
Under the additional rules, motorists are supposed to give way to pedestrians.
The directives implemented by the government will impose a fine on pedestrians who jaywalk of between 60 cent and €6. But, intriguingly, they will also receive a warning, or a fine from 5 yuan (60 cent) to 50 yuan, if caught violating traffic laws.