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China is a home of many opportunities and challenges alike. According to Zhang et al. (2008), the country boasts as the largest automobile market in the world, surpassing the United States in 2009 with annual automobile sales projected to reach 40 million by 2020. Further, and as Bradsher (2011) finds, the country has nearly 80 million vehicles in its roads as of end of 2010. The country is also the world’s most populous nation – at 1.35 billion people according to 2011 World Bank census estimates, a majority of which live in urban centres (World Bank, 2011). Further, the country has the second largest economy in terms of nominal GDP (at $8.227 trillion) and purchasing power parity GDP (at $12.405 trillion) according to 2012 figures. Moreover, China has been experiencing a robust economy growth of between 7% and 10% since the late 1990s (Morrison, 2013). The country’s road infrastructure network can be termed as substantially developed particularly the sophisticated network of expressways extending 95,000 kilometres between large urban areas such as Shanghai and Beijing. Overall, it is clear that these developments sound progressive insofar road transport services in China goes.
Nevertheless, the booming economy, large population, large urban population and large number of automobiles have exerted huge pressure on road transport networks. For instance, Cheung (2008) reasons that an increase in the number of vehicles in the country has posed a huge road safety challenge. As a matter of fact, Zhang (2008) shows that the number of automobiles in the country grew from 42.2 million to 145.2 million between 1997 to 2006, with 57.9% of those being motorcycles, 16.4% passenger vehicles, 7.5% heavy trucks and 9.4% light trucks.
Even as China enjoys the world’s largest network of expressways (Zhang et al., 2008), the growing number of automobiles poses a huge challenge to the country. This pressure is exhibited by the frequent traffic snarl-ups in most cities across the country especially during morning and evening hours when many people are commuting to and from their places of work. Further, and as Murphy (2012) shows, this huge pressure has made it very hard to effectively implement traffic regulations in the country. Consequently, is also exhibited by the growing number of traffic accidents across the country. For example, in August 26, 2012, a tanker ferrying methanol collided with double-decker bus near Yanan, Shaanxi, killing 36 people (Murphy, 2012). Overall, a report presented in the United Nations 10th road safety collaboration meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand by Baluja (2009) shows that at least 87,000 road accident deaths are reported in China every year compared to India’s 100,000 deaths.
A number of studies have been undertaken to discuss and quantify the road safety problem in China (Baluja, 2009; Cheung, 2008; Kayani et al., 2011; Li et al., 2006; Murphy, 2012; Li et al., 2006; Zhang et al., 2006; Zhang et al., 2008; Zhang and Pei, 2005; Zhao, 2006; Zhao et al., 2011). Nevertheless, it is clear that none of these studies has narrowed down its scope to exhaustively discuss the influence of drunk driving and poor roads on the problem. This has created a lack of comprehensive, actionable information that Chinese authorities can rely on in rolling out reforms to tackle the escalating problem. Therefore there is a need to narrow down to specific causal factors and explore their specific impacts on road safety in China and then explore different ways on how these impacts can be mitigated.
To this effect, this report will offer a comprehensive set of information regarding the impact of poor roads and drunk driving on road safety in China. While paying cognizance to the fact that the Chinese government has instituted tremendous measures to address these two challenges, the report will show that to reduce traffic accidents, Chinese authorities must: (1) curb drunk driving by enacting punitive legislations and liaising with advocacy groups to create awareness on the ills of drunk driving, and (2) building new roads while keeping the existing ones in good shape as well as liaising with members of the public to reduce instances of vandalism.
Road safety is a major challenge among developing countries such as China. Based on a 2009 report presented to the 10th United Nations Road Safety Collaboration meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand, China has the second largest deaths from road traffic accidents – as many as 87,000 people die every year in China as a result of grisly road traffic accidents including pedestrians and riders of non-motorised vehicles such as bicycles and carts (Baluja, 2009). Arguably, this is a high fatality index because it converts to more than 230 deaths per day, an alarming figure that according to United Nations Road Safety Collaboration standards pronounces doom to the country given it can harness modern technology to monitor and reduce road traffic accidents. Comparatively, it is arguable that this is an alarming figure especially going by a road safety report by the World Bank which finds that, traffic accidents form developing countries account from more than one million deaths per year, about 90% of all deaths emanating from traffic accidents across the whole world (Kayani et al., 2011). Moreover, and as Kayani et al. (2011) show, about 265,000 people are killed annually by traffic accidents across South Asian countries alone, with countries such as Pakistan, India and China taking the lion share of these deaths courtesy of their large populations, poorly maintained road networks, and ill-implemented traffic regulations.
Interestingly, a great number of road traffic fatalities do not emanate from motor vehicles. According to a study done by Zhang et al. (2008), in 2005, automobile drivers contributed to only 9.0% of road traffic fatalities compared to their counterparts in the US who accounted for as much as 53.4% fatalities in the year 2000. Further, Zhang et al. (2008: 3) find that “Pedestrians, users of non-motorized vehicles, motorcycle drivers, and passengers in motor vehicles accounted for 24.8%, 15.5%, 22.2%, and 20.5%, of fatalities, respectively.” Correspondingly, pedestrians accounted for 11.3% and non-motorised vehicle users for 1.6%, with motorcyclists accounting for 6.3%, and passengers accounting for 25.5% in the US in 2000 (Zhang et al., 2008). Indicatively, and as Appendix 1 shows, most road traffic accident fatalities in China are occasioned by pedestrians, drivers of motorcycles, as well as users of non-motorized vehicles such as bicycles while in the US automobile drivers who bear the biggest brunt.
Nevertheless, there are no accurate road traffic accident records in China. According to Murphy (2012), it is very difficult to quantify road accidents in China simply because some accidents go unreported by the traffic police department. Arguably, this is for obvious reasons that sometimes the traffic police may want to create an impression that they are performing their duties of enhancing the adherence to the set road safety regulations in the country which according to McLaughlin (2011) puts too much blame on drivers in the event of a road traffic accident. For instance, and according to the Traffic Administration Bureau which falls under the Ministry of Public Security, and which acts as the main source of traffic-accident-related data in the country, only about 25,864 people died in the first half of 2011 form road traffic accidents, a low figure which according to Zhao et al. (2011) may even represent a half of the actual deaths emanating from road traffic accidents in the country especially when past data collected between 2002 and 2007 is anything to go by. Further, a study carried out by the WHO found that the official road traffic accident fatalities given by Chinese authorities are far from true especially when data collected from hospitals, mortuaries and other healthcare facilities are put into consideration. In addition, the WHO study found that the official road traffic accident fatalities reports are faulty because they are collected from the police force. Nevertheless, Murphy (2012) shows that even with the lowered road traffic accidents statistics, the figures are comparatively alarming especially when corresponding figures from developed countries like the United States are taken into consideration. For instance, Murphy (2012) shows that in 2011 there were 32,310 traffic accident deaths in the US yet the country had 240 million registered automobiles against China’s 80 million.
The reasons for this damning trend range from lack of proper implementation of road safety regulations by local authorities, poor roads, bad weather, faulty vehicles, to reckless attitudes on the part of drivers. For instance, and as Zhao et al. (2011) find, the reason why road safety challenges have continued to increase over the years in China is because authorities are known for reacting to road accidents after they have occurred instead to taking preventive measures. For instance, the authorities have failed to curb reckless driving among riders of the infamous scooter motorbikes that according to Murphy (2012) are referred to as the “silent killers” because they are fond of appearing when they are least expected, they do not indicate when changing lanes and they do not observe traffic lights. Moreover, and according to Zhao et al. (2011) the Chinese government lacks the political goodwill to implement strict road safety regulations for fear of public backlash. As a matter of fact, Murphy (2012) shows that the Chinese government lacks the political goodwill with politicians, police and the judiciary considering road safety as a low priority problem in a country that has more “serious” issues to address such as territorial aggressions by neighbours such as Japan.
Moreover, road traffic accidents cause more deaths in China because of lack of political goodwill. It is has been argued that in China, just like other developing nations there is a fear of public backlash when the government commits huge sums of monies in rehabilitating roads because this financial burden is ultimately transferred to members of public in the form of increased taxes and bus fare (Zhang et al., 2004). Further, and as a study by the Zhang et al. (2008) show, fast economic growth which has culminated in rapid motorisation in the country play the major roles of traffic accidents. Other factors include lack of proper training for drivers, lack of a stringent legal framework as well as lack of sufficient public awareness on the best measures to uphold road safety regulations. As a matter of fact, Chinese drivers have tendency to flout traffic regulations by engaging in illegal actions such as drunk driving, overloading, reckless driving without care for other road users, and driving without proper licences. For instance, the public transport drivers are known to overload their vehicles in order to maximise profits (Hays, 2012). McLaughlin (2011) clarifies that the Chinese moral fabric is so rotten such that, drivers run over knocked down bodies for several times without even caring to report for fear of reprisal. Overall, this moral rottenness begins from the top leadership and has trickled down to common citizens.
These are damning findings given that road traffic accidents cost the government and the citizens so much, financially and emotionally. As a matter of fact, it has been established that road traffic accidents in developing nations costs as much as 2% of the GDP because they consume scarce medical, technical and financial resources in the form treating the injured, compensating the families of the injured and replacing the damaged vehicles (Bradsher, 2011). Overall, these damning figures highlight the rottenness on the part of the existing medical, insurance and legal systems in the country. As matter of fact, and as McLaughlin (2011) finds, sometimes drivers find it very cheap to kill by running over someone even several times rather than having to take them to hospital and foot their medical care bills. For example, McLaughlin (2011) tells of a story where a 21-year-old driver hit a 26-year-old waitress and proceeded to stab her to death because he was convinced if the woman survived the accident she would badger his family with endless compensation claims. Arguably, and as Zhang et al. (2004) posit, this is moral decadence of the highest order given the young age of the driver – it shows that Chinese drivers are only concerned about their welfare and are more likely to disregard the welfare of other road users.
Nevertheless, it is fair to point out that though China still holds the second position after India in terms of the reported road traffic fatalities, there are signs that things are changing for the better. According to statistics from the WHO, in 2009 about 67,759 people were killed by road traffic accidents, about 7.8% decline from the previous year (Hays, 2012). Further, 2008 traffic fatalities were down by 10%, injuries went down by 20% and total accidents went down by 19% compared to the case in 2007. As Hays (2012) show, in 2008, 73,484 people were killed and 304,919 survived with injuries in about 265,204 reported accidents across the country. In 2006, some 76,000 people were killed, about 9.4 decline from the situation in 2005 (Hays, 2012). These are interesting figures which to some extent point out to the return in sanity among Chinese drivers as well as proper implementation of the set traffic rules especially on critical issues such as use of safety belts, speeding, drunk driving and overloading.
Developing countries like China have been known to have poorly constructed and maintained road networks. Though China boasts for having the most extensive network of expressways in the world (at more than 95,000 kilometres as of 2012), even surpassing developed countries such as the US (Li and Shum, 2012), the country experiences numerous road traffic accidents as a result of poorly built or maintained roads especially in the country’s mountainous areas (Baluja, 2009). Arguably, and as Zhang et al. (2008) reason, the expansive nature of the country’s geographical space is partly responsible for the lack of proper maintenance of road network as this is likely to cost the government large sums of funds. Further, China has been experiencing rapid motorisation and growth in urban centres as a result of economic growth and movement from rural to urban areas. For instance, and as Appendix 2 shows, the country’s GDP has grown by almost 10% since 1990s, urban population has increased by more than 40% and motor vehicles have by more than 30 times during the same period of time and hence putting pressure on road network in the country (Zhao, 2006).
The country has made phenomenal steps in the last 20 years to revamp its national road network. For example, in the late 1990s when the Asian crisis broke out, the Chinese government made stringent fiscal measures in order to streamline investment in the national road infrastructure (Zhang et al., 2008). As Appendix 3 shows, this culminated in the increase of the total kilometres covered by the country’s expressways and highways to reach a total of 1.9 million kilometres in 2005 or a density of about 20 kilometres or road network per 100 kilometres squared (Zhao, 2006). Nevertheless, with the increased rate of motorisation and the accompanying dense road infrastructure network, China continue to experience increased rates of road traffic accidents. As a matter of fact about 100,000 road traffic accident deaths and 500,000 injuries were reported in the country in 2005 alone, about 20% of the all road traffic fatalities in the world in the same year (Zhang et al., 2008). With the number of automobiles slated to grow exponentially by 2020 in China, pressure on the country’s road network will increase and road traffic accidents will most likely increase due to the obvious difficulties in road maintenance.
The immense pressure resultant road maintenance challenges have caused numerous road traffic accidents. For instance, back in July 1997, two buses enroot to Emei Mountain tumbled down a steep road and down into the Yangtze River killing at least 43 passengers (Hays, 2012). Another bus plunged into another river in the southern part of the country almost the same time when the earlier two buses were involved in the grisly accident. Further, in 2002, a mini bus carrying students tumbled about 70 meters down a mountain road and down into a river in Yunnan province killing 17 people (Hays, 2012). Another 34 people were killed in 2002 when a long distance bus plying between Urumqi and Kashgar went off a bridge in Xinjiang and a year later, another bus killed 27 people when it plunged into a ravine when the driver swerved to avoid a head-on collision with an oil truck in Shaanxi province near Ya’an (Hays, 2012). Around 22 people were killed in May 2004 when a bus veered over a cliff in Sichuan Province near Wanyuan. Yet another accident involving the poor conditions of Chinese roads killed 16 people when a truck packed with migrant workers crashed over a guardrail in Chongqing region, near Jiangjin on June 2004 (Hays, 2012). Another accident resulted in several unconfirmed deaths in September 30, the same year when a bus was swept off by a swollen river near Chongqing. Further, in November, the same year, 23 people were killed alongside other 46 who survived with severe injuries in Shaanxi Province when loaded bus tumbled into a river on the north-western side of the province and another bus killed 19 people when it veered into a road sidewalk also injuring several pedestrians walking home (Hays, 2012). In essence, these accidents would not have occurred if the roads surfaces were in good condition and the guardrails were working right.
Records of road traffic accidents in China involving poor roads are many. For instance, 24 people were killed and 13 survived with injuries when a bus plunged down snow-covered mountainous road in the south-western part of the country in November 2005 (Hays, 2012). Further still, and in December the same year 28 people went missing and were presumed to be dead after a bus skidded off a weak and frozen section of a road landing into the Yellow River. Another bus tumbled down a cliff in December 2006, killing at least 17 people in the south-western part of China and in February 2007, a tour bus caused 18 deaths and 75 injuries after it collided head-on with a bus while attempting to navigate a pot-holed section of a road near Hecho, Guangxi Province (Hays, 2012). Moreover, in March the same year, 22 people were killed in Shaanxi Province when the bus they were travelling in plunged into a reservoir, while another bus plunged some 20 metres down an overpass killing at least 24 people in Chongqing as a result of slick road surface (Hays, 2012). A further, 20 people were killed when a tractor transporting women from a hard-day labour job overturned in a mountainous road in Liaoning Province hence crashing a cart that was attached to it. Another 9 people were killed in July 2007 when a bus tumbled into a river while attempting to drive into a ferry, and in August the same year at least 3 people were killed and 13 others injured when a tour bus collided with a car near Xian following a mix-up in road signs (Hays, 2012). Overall, these accidents highlight the level of vulnerability when driving along Chinese roads especially for drivers of heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks who are faced with difficulties in controlling their vehicles when driving in steep, unprotected road sections.
Mountainous roads in China lack strong barriers for protecting vehicles from tumbling down hill when they lose control. For instance, in January 2008, a bus lost control and rammed past highway barriers and into a ravine (Hays, 2012). The accident was blamed on poor roads that made it difficult for the driver to apply brakes or even to rely on the guardrails to at least prevent the bus from plunging into the ravine. In March 2008, a long distance passenger bus plunged into a river killing 12 people and injuring 33 others when the driver of the bus was unable to control the bus after an attempted overtaking due to poor road condition when travelling from Chongqing to Shenzhen (Hays, 2012). Further, 9 people were killed and 20 others surviving with injuries when a bus they were travelling in plunged into a 9-metre ravine on May 2008, in near Huangshan, Anhui Province. Poor roads were partly blamed for the accident. In June 2008, a bus and a truck collided head-on with an on-coming truck, killing 22 people in Shanxi Province when the bus driver lost control due to poorly maintained roads that made navigation difficult (Hays, 2012). A bus travelling on a remote mountain road in Xinjiang overturned and rolled down hill, killing 24 people and injuring 20 others on June 2008. The accident was blamed on poorly maintained roads that made the driver of the bus carrying high school students to lose control while manoeuvring bends and potholes. In September 2008, a bus tumbled into a 100-metre valley killing 51 people in Sichuan Province. During the same month, another passenger bus plunged into the Tibetan mountains killing 18 people and injuring 29 others (Hays, 2012). Majority of these accidents were blamed on poor roads that make it difficult for drivers to quickly regain control of their vehicles when navigating patchy road sections.
Poorly constructed roads that do not provide enough ramps, parking bays, bus stops, and sidewalks are responsible for increased road traffic accidents. Further, in August 2011, a bus ferrying migrant workers rammed into a stationary semi-trailer parked along the road near Zhangjiakou (Hays, 2012). Another 12 people were killed in February 2011 after a minibus plunged into a reservoir following a swerve from the road while trying to avoid hitting a motorbike that veered out of its lane to avoid potholes. Another accident occurred in March 2011 when a bus veered from the road without proper guardrails and rammed into a passing train killing at least 3 people and injuring 80 others (Hays, 2012). Further, in October 2009, a bus that plunged into a deep valley form a mountainous road in Shanxi Province killing 13 and injuring 40 others due to poor road guardrails. During earlier the same year in October, a bus over run a hilly road killing 17 people, injuring 54 others due to poor road guardrails and poor road markings. Earlier the same year in April, poor roads were blamed on an accident where a bus collided with a truck head-on killing 20 people and injuring 12 others on a narrow section of the road near Kuqa in Xinjiang (Hays, 2012). Overall, these accidents highlight the challenges that China as an expansive country, home to rugged terrain, tall mountains, deep valleys and severe winters faces a great challenge of keeping its road networks in good conditions. For instance, repeated rain erosion during winter weakens the sides of the roads and guardrails in mountain roads making it very dangerous for bus drivers.
Poor roads continue to increase the level of road traffic accidents in China at a time when the country boasts the most extensive road network in the world. For example, and according to Qiang (2013), about 7 people were killed and 12 others seriously injured early in 2013 when an overloaded van tumbled down a ravine on a poorly-railed mountain road in Daxin County, Guangxi Zhuang region. Another 12 people were killed when an overloaded coach tumbled down past a poorly-railed road down into a 100-meter slope in the south-western region of Guizhou Province early in 2013 (Qiang, 2013). Another coach tumbled down a ravine and caught fire killing all on board near Ningxian, Qingyang City (Qiang, 2013). Rescue operations could proceed successfully because of the poor terrain. Further, a coach tumbled over a 100-meter slope while carrying 2 passengers, killing 11 with the others sustaining sever injuries (Qiang, 2013). Together with other reported and unreported road traffic accidents contribute to more than 87,000 deaths and more than 400,000 injuries annually in China.
Overall, the lack of reliable and accurate road traffic accidents in China is a huge hindrance to telling the actual cause of road safety incidences in the country. According to Watkins (2010) and WHO (2009), most road traffic accidents in developing nations have multiple causes and therefore it is very difficult to accurately associate any single factor to them. The case of China is no different. For instance, it is very difficult to tell the actual cause of an accident where a drunk driver driving a heavy truck along a pot-holed section of a mountain road if the driver decides to swerve to avoid a pot hole and end up plunging into a valley. Depending on the specific conviction of the analyst, it could be concluded that the poor state of the road was the main cause of the accident while in actual sense it was a case of drunk driving. As a matter of fact, Li et al. (2006) and Zhang et al. (2008) reason that while poor roads may be a huge hindrance to smooth driving along hilly roads, it is entirely what the driver does on them that determines if an accident is going to take place or not. For example, when driving along a patchy stretch of a mountain road, a driver may exercise due diligence when overtaking, when changing lanes, when stopping, when parking or even when applying warning signs. Arguably, and as Zhao (2006) justifies, if a driver obeys traffic rules such as slowing down when negotiating bends the chances of an accident happening will be minimal. To this end, it is only wise to clarify that, though China has the second highest numbers of road traffic fatalities after India (Baluja, 2009), it is very difficult to differentiate between accidents caused by drunk driving, poor roads, poorly maintained vehicles, natural disasters such as storms and lack of sufficient driving skills.
China may have the longest road networks than the US (Zhang et al., 2008), but the conditions of its most roads are in deplorable state (Zhao, 2011). According to Zhang et al. (2008), a comparison between road safety situation in China and the US as regards to the condition of roads must touch on issues such as economic development, road infrastructure, miles travelled, and number of motorised vehicles. In regards to these four benchmarks, the road safety situation in China is more risky than that of the US. It is more risky because China’s GDP is way smaller compared to the US case – Chinese GDP is $8.25 trillion and US GDP is $16 trillion as of 2012 (Morrison, 2013). This argument is based on the notion that countries with large GDP are most likely to commit a large chunk of their funds to the development of their national road infrastructure network (Watkins, 2010). That the US GDP is almost double that of China makes it fairly reasonable to assert that the country has a huge budget for developing its road infrastructure than China, at least by a margin of 50%. This argument is true since developed nation (countries with huge GDP’s) have well developed road infrastructure than their developing counterparts.
Further, China has an expansive geographical space compared to the US. China covers 9.6 million square kilometres while the US covers 7.7 million square kilometres (Zhang et al., 2008). An expansive geographical space makes it likely that motorised vehicles travel long distances from one end of the country to another in China than in the US. According to Watkins (2010), this makes it very hard for the country to construct and regularly rehabilitate its extensive road infrastructure. Moreover, China has a high number of motorised vehicles than the US (Li et al., 2006). Arguably, this exerts immense pressure on Chinese roads than on the US roads because more vehicles are likely to travel for longer miles from one end of the country to another. In addition, Chinese terrain is rugged than the US – China is home to some of the longest rivers such as Yangtze and Yellow River as well as tallest mountains such as Tibet (Cheung, 2008; Zhang et al., 2008). This makes the construction and maintenance of roads very challenging in China compared to the case in the US. For example, constructing and undertaking rehabilitation works along roads in the mountainous and expansive Tibetan region poses huge financial and technical burdens for the Chinese government. Notwithstanding the expansive geographical space and rugged terrain, building and rehabilitating roads in China is more challenging than in the US because of the immense pressure exerted by the many motorised and non-motorised vehicles.
Road traffic accidents kill those outside the motorised vehicles involved in accidents than those aboard them in China than in the US. According to Zhang et al. (2008), most road traffic fatalities in China result into more deaths of pedestrians, motorcyclists than drivers and passengers in motorised vehicles in China than it is in the US. As a matter of fact, Zhang et al. (2008) show that drivers of passenger vehicles accounted for only 9.0% road traffic fatalities in 2005 compared to their counterparts in the US who contributed to 53.4% of all road traffic fatalities in the country. Further, Zhang et al. (2008) show that pedestrians, motorcyclists and passengers in motorised vehicles contributed to 24.8%, 15.5%, 22.2, and 20.5% in China and 11.3%, 1.6%, 6.3%, and 25.5% in the US. Moreover, Appendix 1 show that China has the highest fatalities per every 10,000 motorised vehicles, that is, 15.6, 13.7, 9.9, and 6.2 in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 respectively, compared to the situation in the US where only 1.8 fatalities were reported in 2005 per every 10,000 motorised vehicles (Zhang et al., 2008).
From the figures, it is arguable that Chinese roads are more risky in terms of causing fatalities compared to their US counterparts. Specifically, and as Cheung (2008) show, it can be deduced that Chinese roads are very risky for pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and users of non-motorised vehicles. For example, they do not have proper guardrails to prevent vehicles from veering off from their lanes, they do not have proper markings and indications to guide and warn drivers in various sections, they do not have properly designated and guarded path walks where pedestrians and cyclists can use, and they do not have proper parking bays and ramps. These arguments are in tandem with Zhao (2006) arguments that poorly constructed roads or roads that are not regularly maintained are dangerous not only to drivers and passengers of motorised vehicles but also to pedestrians and users of non-motorised vehicles. Further, and as Appendix 1 shows, China leads the US in terms of road traffic fatalities per $ billion GDP with figures for 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 showing that for every $ billion GDP, China experienced 59.6, 59.2, 48.3, and 31.8 respectively while the US experienced 3.5 fatalities per $ billion GDP in 2005 (Zhang et al., 2008). Arguably, these figures put more pressure on the Chinese GDP than the US and therefore making it very hard for China to effectively undertake proper rehabilitation of its road network to meet the growing number of motorised vehicles in the country.
The state of Chinese road infrastructure network has to blame for the high road traffic fatalities and injuries experienced in the recent years. Though it is true that the country has made phenomenal developments in terms of extending its national highway infrastructure grid, a lot needs to be done to address the runaway problem of road traffic accidents. Several accidents have been reported across the country partly in the mountainous regions of the country where roads the condition of the roads is in deplorable state. Specifically, most accidents happened because the roads lacked proper guardrails to protect vehicles from plunged down valleys. Other accidents were caused by poorly packed trucks while others resulted into death of pedestrians and other non-motorised vehicles leading to the conclusion that a good number of Chinese roads lack adequate path walks. Comparatively, china experiences a lot of road traffic fatalities involving poor conditions of roads than the US. A big chunk of these fatalities involved pedestrians, motorcyclists and users of other non-motorised vehicles. Overall, it can therefore be deduced that Chinese roads are dangerous than their counterparts in the US not only to drivers and passengers of motorised but also to third parties.
Drunk driving simply means driving while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance. In the recent years, China has caught the attention of both the public and the international community as traffic accidents have increased rapidly in the country along with increased vehicle ownership (Mattimore, 2011). The local authorities have taken a number of measures to respond to these concerns through enactment of strict laws and penalties on those driving under the influence (DUI) as well as implementation of rigorous enforcement programmes since the prevalence of DUI increased exponentially in 2008 (Jurberg, 2011). Generally, the level of drunk driving is measured using a metric for checking levels of alcohol intoxication either for legal or medical reasons called Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is also called blood alcohol concentration, blood alcohol level or blood ethanol concentration (Mattimore, 2011). Blood alcohol content is given as the percentage of alcohol in the blood. For example, if a driver has a BAC of 0.1 it means that 0.10% (a tenth of 1 per cent) of the driver’s blood by volume or by mass in some countries is composed of alcohol or alcoholic substances.
In China the legal for presence of blood in the alcohol or breath in the alcohol limit (BAC) is 0.02. Chinese DUI laws are largely a reflection of laws in other nations (developed and developing, alike). Drivers found with BAC of 0.02% in China are considered to be drunk and are exposed to a fine of Chinese Yuan Renmimbi (CNY) 200 to 500 or one to three months suspension of the driving license (The Economist, 2009). If the BAC is 0.08%, the driver under the influence can be committed to prison for up to 15 days and three to six months suspension of the license and an additional fine of between CNY 500 and 2000, or all of them. Starting May, 1, 2011, the Chinese DUI law provides that the driver is committed to six months penal detection if convicted for drunken driving (Mattimore, 2011). This sentence takes a form of penal detention but with less severity than actual imprisonment.
The Chinese DUI law provides that the punishment for a first offender conviction found with BAC ranging between 0.02 and 0.79 is fined to a maximum of CNY 500 as well as a provisional suspension of their licenses for one to three months. If the BAC of the driver is gauged above 0.08, the penalty for DUI involves incarceration until the driver regains soberness and it can include penal detention of 15 days along with a minimum penalty of between CNY 500 and CNY 2,000 with a temporary suspension of the license for six months (Richburg, 2012).
Chinese DUI legislation provides stricter laws and penalties for commercial and business drivers. A first offender is convicted when having a BAC of below 0.79 through a compulsory suspension of license for three months along with a fine of CNY 500. In other cases when the BAC is higher than 0.08, the minimum penalty for the offence is incarceration for up to 15 days in jail until the offender sobers. In addition, the driver gets a suspension of their driving license for a period of six months and a fine of CNY 2,000 (Mattimore, 2011).
China’s recently enacted DUI legislations provide zero tolerance for DUI repeat offenders. If an offender is convicted for the second time within the same year, the person is sentenced with a compulsory revocation of the driving for a period not less than a year and ban is placed for five years on driving any business or commercial vehicle or any other vehicle meant for commercial use (Richburg, 2012).
Drunken driving laws in China allow the police to commence an investigation of an accident after it happens or in the event that they observe driving behaviours that indicate or signal driving under influence of alcohol. These signals include speeding and lack of steady lane travel. The police officers are also allowed to carry out indiscriminate breath tests and put up DUI checkpoints whenever they deem necessary and wherever they like (Mattimore, 2011).
There is a need by the legislators to draft new and stricter because of an influx in the number of cars on the Chinese roads. By the end of 2010, there were more than 200 million cars using Chinese roads, while another 20 million was added to the cars existing stock in 2011 according to another report released by China Daily reports (Richburg 2012). An increase in the number of cars on the roads has also seen increased the number of drunk drivers. In 2010 alone, police officers caught about 526, 000 boozing cruisers, which signalled a 68 per cent increase in 2009 according to the statistics released by the Ministry of Public Security (Hu and Baker, 2012). Further, and as Zhang et al. (2008) shows, statistics show that China experienced 2.3, 3.1, 3.1, 3.8, 4.3 and 4.8 percent of total fatalities in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively in all categories of its roads. As Cheung (2008) and Worley (2006) posit, these are damning figures which underscore the challenge China is facing insofar as the influence of drunk driving on road safety goes.
During the initial years of the car boom, the government did little to arrest the problem of driving under influence, until recently when it has put its foot down through various legislations. Cases of hit and run have been the highest in China especially among students and children (Cheung, 2008). The first incidence when the law made its impact felt was in 2009 when the courts ruled a death sentence for a thirty-year old company executive who ran over for people killing all of them and injured another one in Chinese western city of Chengdu in another incidence of drunk driving (Li et al., 2012). After an appeal, the man was sentenced to life prison. In spite of the rampant incidences of hit and run in China that is in most instances occasioned by driving under influence, article 133 passed in 1997 only offers 3 to 7 years in prison and decapitation if it leads to death (Richburg, 2012). However, in a sad and immoral incidence that went viral after two vans ran over a two-year old gal and another drunk driver ran over a toddler in another hit and run, they were sentenced to only three years imprisonment.
In spite of the heavy penalties provided for in the DUI laws, driving under influence war is yet to be won in China. The China daily gives statistics that 65,000 people were killed through traffic accidents in 2011; however, the statistics do not specify the number of deaths caused by drunk driving within the 65,000 deaths. In another recent incidence of drunk driving in 2011, a 23 year old driver Li Qiming ran over two university students while under alcohol influence and killed one of them who were roller-skating around a campus (Hu and Baker, 2012). The drunken student was a son of a deputy chief of a district police bureau and went ahead to warn guards against charging or reporting him. This habit is also characterized by abuse of power in China. The student was later charged with “causing traffic casualties” a minor offence that carries light charges and only 7 years imprisonment.
In another drunk driving incidence in 2010, a man aged 38 years killed 11 people and injured 20 other people after he.............
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