Chi­nese driv­ers must stop – they just don’t want to

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - PULSE - By Louise Ho

Ato­tal of 417 traf­fic ac­ci­dents were re­ported in the first five months of this year in Shang­hai, in­clud­ing 274 deaths and 212 in­juries, the city’s traf­fic po­lice an­nounced Mon­day. The two lead­ing causes of ac­ci­dents cited were driv­ers not obey­ing traf­fic lights and not let­ting pedes­tri­ans pass.

For any­one who lives here, the statis­tics come as no sur­prise. Chi­nese driv­ers – and ar­ro­gant nou­veau-riche Shang­hai driv­ers in par­tic­u­lar – are no­to­ri­ous for snub­bing traf­fic rules, and the lat­est data is ev­i­dent of that. New­com­ers, how­ever, of­ten seem dazed by the homi­ci­dal ma­ni­acs on the loose on China’s streets.

Like most res­i­dents, I’ve be­come numbly weary, and wary, that pedes­tri­ans here have no rights, but when I first ar­rived in the main­land, the au­dac­ity of Chi­nese driv­ers mak­ing left-hand or right-hand turns at in­ter­sec­tions when­ever they felt like it scared the heck out of me. Even at green lights, which the­o­ret­i­cally means that it’s safe to cross the road, pedes­tri­ans must first wait for mo­torists to turn, and the onus is on the pedes­trian to get out of the way or get hit.

But we are wrong. Re­cently I had an en­light­en­ing dis­cus­sion with a for­eign friend about this pe­cu­liar rule of China’s, who stated that “cars must al­ways let a pedes­trian cross first.” At first I thought he was just be­ing a typ­i­cal “our ways are su­pe­rior to yours” Westerner in China. But af­ter do­ing some due dili­gence on the of­fi­cial Road Traf­fic Safety Law of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, I found that in­deed pedes­tri­ans have pri­or­ity rightof-way ( xi­anx­ingquan, “first go rights”) over ve­hi­cles, es­pe­cially at in­ter­sec­tions.

I cross-checked this law with a Chi­nese col­league who re­cently com­pleted her driv­ing test. She con­firmed that it is writ­ten in the test that pedes­tri­ans have pri­or­ity over driv­ers. “The­o­ret­i­cally ev­ery driver knows this,” she said, “yet it is sel­dom en­forced on the road.”

Just to piss off lo­cal driv­ers and show them that pedes­tri­ans al­ways have the pri­or­ity at a cross­ing, my for­eign friend has the danger­ous habit of pur­posely step­ping in front of any car try­ing to bully its way through pedes­tri­ans at an in­ter­sec­tion. He ad­mits that his ve­hic­u­lar vig­i­lan­tism puts him at great risk, but he says it’d be worth it just to get a driver in trou­ble for hit­ting some­one if they dare not brake.

Iron­i­cally, Shang­hai traf­fic po­lice re­vealed that the more ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers – those with 11 to 15 years of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and who are usu­ally from 30 to 40 years of age – con­trib­uted to ap­prox­i­mately 30 per­cent of the city’s ac­ci­dents. “Th­ese driv­ers think they have enough road ex­pe­ri­ence, so they tend to ig­nore traf­fic rules,” an of­fi­cer ex­plained to the Shang­hai Morn­ing Post.

But is “ex­pe­ri­ence” re­ally a good enough rea­son to drive like a ma­niac? It sounds to me more like su­per­cil­ious­ness. Ob­serve any road in Shang­hai (from a safe dis­tance) and you will bear wit­ness to the un­re­strained self­ish­ness of lo­cal mo­torists whose only thought is to get ahead of the next car, or past pass­ing pedes­tri­ans hold­ing them up at an in­ter­sec­tion, all just so that they can ar­rive at the next red light an eighth of a minute early.

There were 58,316 traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties in China in 2013, 78 per­cent more than 32,719 in the US. But in com­par­i­son there are 154 mil­lion ve­hi­cles in the main­land, much less than 240 mil­lion in Amer­ica. Road in­juries have be­come the third lead­ing cause of death in China ac­cord­ing to a study in The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal last year. Many ex­perts be­lieve the ac­tual death toll is sig­nif­i­cantly higher than what is re­ported.

China has over­taken the US as the world’s largest au­to­mo­bile mar­ket. Twenty three mil­lion cars were sold in China last year, more than a quar­ter of the to­tal in the world.

Un­for­tu­nately, due to the “big fish eat lit­tle fish” men­tal­ity of Chi­nese driv­ers, its driv­ing cul­ture is still far be­hind most West­ern coun­tries. If th­ese atro­cious mo­torists con­tinue to haugh­tily ig­nore traf­fic laws, and if traf­fic po­lice don’t start en­forc­ing those laws more se­verely, Chi­nese driv­ers may soon be col­lec­tively re­spon­si­ble for the world’s largest act of geno­cide.

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