Shenzhen's newly amended regulations on punishments for traffic violations became effective Friday, prompting motorists to post sarcastic messages on social media for what they called draconian rules.
Some say Shenzhen has become a hell for drivers. Others lament that they will rake in the maximum 12 penalty points and have their driver’s license suspended very soon under the new regulations, no matter how carefully they drive.
A new rule imposing 300 yuan (US$32) on anyone who fails to use the turning signal for at least 3 seconds before changing lanes, making a turn or pulling over has attracted the most complaints, with some saying the rule is too rigid because it is unrealistic for drivers to count the number of seconds while driving.
The new rules also raise fines on some violations, such as increasing the 300-yuan fine to 500 yuan for using high-beam headlights illegally. Changing lanes illegally or failing to slow down before passing zebra crossings will also attract a fine of 500 yuan.
Motorists who are used to freewheeling behaviors on the road will surely find the new regulations burdensome. However, the punishments laid out in the amended regulations are not excessive, and indeed are necessary for the city to improve traffic safety and reduce deaths and injuries. Police also say they will not immediately dish out fine tickets for “3-second” turning signal violations in the initial stage of implementation.
Shenzhen has been taking the lead in the country to adopt tough punishments, new technology and creative methods for cracking down on traffic violations and improving road conditions. The efforts have been paying off, with casualties from traffic accidents sharply dropping over recent years.
In 2017, the number of deaths from traffic accidents in Shenzhen declined to 346 from 416 in 2016. In 2018, the number further declined to 277, the first time in 10 years that the yearly traffic death toll had dropped below 300.
More significantly, the lower casualties came with the continued growth in the number of cars registered in the city, which reached a record 3.36 million at the end of 2018.
Despite the laudable achievements in improved traffic safety, Shenzhen still faces a daunting task in reducing traffic accidents to a minimum. Even the yearly toll has been reduced to less than 300, most of the deaths could have been avoided if those who caused the accidents had abided by traffic rules.
While an increasing numbers of motorists have shown respect for the traffic regulations – you can see most drivers now give way to pedestrians who are crossing the road – there are many road users who still act recklessly, like speeding truck drivers and couriers who ride e-bikes on crowded streets as if they were bulls charging ahead on a no-man’s land. Some pedestrians also cross the road at will and go against the red light.
Life is always in the fast lane in Shenzhen. Couriers and takeout deliverymen have to rush to deliver goods and food to the doorsteps of buyers. Truck drivers and cabbies are always in a hurry to increase turnover so that they can make more money. In many cases, truck drivers, tempted by bigger profits, overload their vehicles. By doing so, however, they put their own lives and others’ at risk.
Many years ago, dump trucks were the No. 1 killer on the road. Several rounds of crackdowns and tightened regulations have greatly reduced the number of traffic casualties caused by unruly dump trucks. However, these trucks remain a menace to people’s lives. From Jan. 1 to July 14 this year, dump trucks claimed 10 lives in nine accidents. Police dealt with 126,328 violations by dump trucks in that period. The shocking figure means violations were to blame for dump truck-related deaths, and that the behaviors of truck drivers and their companies have yet to fundamentally change. Overloading and speeding are chronic problems plaguing the trucking sector and have to be tackled more forcibly.
Electric bikes have also posed a serious danger to people’s lives in recent years, as the courier and takeout delivery industries boom. Between January and March this year, 10 people were killed in accidents involving e-bikes. This came after 95 e-bike-related deaths were reported between January and November 2018. In 2018, the number of fatalities related to e-bikes made up 40 percent of the total traffic deaths in the city.
The prevalence of satellite navigation apps and social media has led to another menace to road safety. In 2018, 94 deaths in traffic accidents in the city were caused by drivers recklessly operating their phones or other devices while driving.
Most driving coaches are not qualified in guiding their students to drive strictly according to regulations and with respect to other road users. My instructor, however, managed to make a good point: “When you step on the accelerator, you are putting yourself and others on the threshold of life and death.”
The first thing a driver should do when sitting behind the wheel is to think about the human lives that may be lost if he or she does not drive carefully enough, rather than the fines and penalty points.
(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)