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