Drivers irate over new rules

By Liu Linlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-4 9:17:24

A new traffic regulation that reinforces the penalty for running yellow lights has triggered widespread controversy since coming into force on New Year's Day, highlighting China's difficulties as it adapts to becoming a nation of drivers.

Under the new rule, which has been dubbed the strictest traffic regulation ever, driving through a yellow light will result in a gain of six penalty points on the license.  The system requires drivers to attend a 7-day training session and take a written exam before returning to the road if they reach 12 points, notably laxer than Western systems where accumulated penalties can force drivers off the road for years.

The tougher punishment triggered frustrations among drivers. According to a survey on Sina Weibo, nearly 27,000 Web users opposed the new rule while only over 5,000 supported harsher rules to regulate hidden traffic hazards as of Thursday night.

Gao Lijia, a 28-year-old driver in Beijing who drove through a yellow signal on Wednesday, told the Global Times that he felt uneasy under the new rule. And even though he claims to be very cautious, Gao is worried that he may run yellow lights again, given the brief time frame for him to react.

The rule stipulates that only if a car is partly over the line when the light goes from green to yellow can it go ahead without being punished.

"There are better ways like flashing the green lights or installing a countdown signal to the traffic lights. I expect more traffic jams as a result of the new rule," Gao said.

The public is concerned that accidents such as rear-end collisions will rise.

Li Kaifu, a high-profile microblogger and former head of Google's China branch, said on Weibo that the legislation is a "slap to the head," which failed to properly solicit public opinion.

Even the official Weibo account of State news agency Xinhua commented that the new rule about running yellow light is "against Newton's first law of motion."

However, the Ministry of Public Security responded to the public's frustration by saying that running yellow lights and rear-end collisions could be avoided if drivers concentrate on the road, keep a safe distance with the cars in front and slow down while approaching an intersection.

The ministry also gave support to the new rule by comparing the numbers of road accidents before and after the rule took effect. In five major cities, Beijing, Tianjin, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Jinan, the number of road accidents decreased by between 9.3 to 29.8 percent. However, the national holiday of the last few days has also significantly driven down traffic, and the ministry did not provide comparisons to other vacation periods.

Zhang Zhuting, a law professor at the Transport Management Institute under the Ministry of Transport, told the Global Times Thursday that the revised road regulation is a continuance of laws on road safety, adding that some of the complaints are just excuses for not following traffic rules.

The traffic management department in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, chose to delay the punishment for driving through a yellow signal, citing technical difficulties in judging the violation, Xinhua reported.

However, the provincial traffic management department said on Wednesday that Shenzhen's delay is against the spirit of the law, the Yangcheng Evening News reported.

Zhang Yiwu, a deputy director of the Cultural Resources Research Center at Peking University, told the Global Times on Thursday that China is showing symptoms of becoming an auto society as more and more cars appear on the road and stricter control is sorely needed.

"Strong public opinions against the new rule are partially because more drivers who are young and well-off prefer to state their dissatisfaction and inconvenience online," he said.

According to Zhang Yiwu, it is inevitable that harsher punishments introduced to ensure road safety won't be well received by drivers who are not willing to make sacrifices.

To draw lessons from the controversies, the authority should make sure that strict regulations are practical and  are the result of full public discussion, suggested Zhang.

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