Saturday, March 22, 2008

Look Before You Cross

Chinese people love to reel of statistics off the top of their head. China's GDP, its population, and economic status in the world.

How about another one? China has the world's highest death toll from road accidents.

At the second China Traffic Safety Forum a few days ago, the country recorded 5.1 deaths for every 10,000 vehicles in 2007. The world average is two deaths for every 10,000 vehicles.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, China has topped the list since 1996. Road accidents claimed 81,649 deaths last year, down 7,806 from the year before.

With the ever increasing number of cars on the road it's not surprising there are so many accidents.

Another is the lack of regard people have for traffic rules, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists included. Pedestrians will try and cross a street when the light is already red, or cyclists don't look when they turn. Many motorists act like they own the road and are prone to steamrolling ahead regardless of what is in front of them.

As for Beijing, city planning is also to blame. The municipality is so spread out, it's more of a car city than a people-oriented one. It almost seems like pedestrians are an afterthought, hardly giving them safe areas to cross the street. Some stretches are so long before the next intersection that many people just try to jaywalk across at their own peril.

After almost a year of living here, I'm less frightened when crossing the street. But I do constantly look both ways even if it's a one-way street -- you never know if another car has decided to go against the traffic to make a bizarre manuovre. I always make sure I stare at the driver so he/she knows they have to stop. Or I make sure I run quickly enough to get out of the way.

One has to wonder, with so many deaths per year, do the Chinese really value human life? Losing one's life from a road accident seems so senseless. Everyone who uses the road -- from pedestrians to motorists must have more education about safety and courtesy. It is the only way to lower this frightening statistic.

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