Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Road deaths drop due to recession except in China

A report published last week suggests that road accidents may be falling due the worldwide economic downturn. The Paris-based International Traffic Forum has cited not only road safety initiatives and enforcement as having an effect, but also the falling volumes of traffic brought about as people use their cars less.

In 2008 the number of deaths on Britain's roads dropped some 13.5 % to 2,645, 414 less than in 2007. But it wasn't just Britain which has seen a decline. In the United States the number of deaths fell 9.7 % while Australia saw an 8.5 % drop in fatalities. In statistical terms Britain has one of the lowest death rates in the world with 4.3 persons per 100,000 dying on the road each year. In Japan that rises to 4.7 while in Germany and Ireland that figure rises to 5.5 and 6.3 respectively.

But in China, where the number of cars on the roads is soaring, road deaths are soaring. China is the world's most populous country with over 1.3 billion people, about a fifth of the earth's total population. And according to official studies there are about 450,000 car accidents on Chinese roads each year which cause about, 470,000 injuries and 100,000 deaths. The total cost of these crashes is put at more than 2.4 billion US dollars. More than 90 % of these accidents are considered to be caused by bad driving skills.

But the official figures are strongly disputed by a World Health Organization (WHO) study. A WHO study says the actual number of fatalities on China's roads is more than twice the official figure or about 250,000 killed each year. This study estimates that 45,000 are injured and 680 are killed on China's roads each day. It makes road crashes the leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 45 in China. Grim reading indeed, but there's also a financial cost. The direct and indirect costs of these accidents are estimated at between 12 to 21 billion US dollars, or about 1.5 % of China's GNP. This accident rate means that roughly 20 percent of the world's fatal car accidents take place in China.

The Chinese Government has formed a new ministry committee and introduced a major new Road Traffic Safety Law throughout the country in an effort to reduce the accident rate. But it is not enough for some. Earlier this month Xinhua News Agency reported [July 12] that a retired teacher had become an unlikely Internet hit in China for throwing bricks at cars whose drivers were ignoring red lights at a dangerous crossing. The furious 74 year old took up position on an intersection in Lanzhou, the capital of northwest Gansu province, and damaged more than 30 cars before he was stopped by police, the China Daily reported. "I just wanted to catch people's attention and tell the drivers to think of pedestrians," the man said.

The unnamed man's attacks drew wide support in Chinese cyberspace, with nearly 80 % of 400,000 respondents to an online poll backing him, the English-language paper said. The ex-teacher became a campaigner for road safety after a pedestrian was killed near where he lived. He successfully lobbied for traffic lights at the intersection, but drivers continued to ignore them. So he took up his protest in a more violent way by throwing bricks at transgressors. He was joined by two other elderly men, while other people around them found them more bricks and brought water.

He had planned to keep up his vigilante attack for a week but was stopped by police after one day. He was interviewed and released without charge according to reports. It was not said whether any cars were seriously damaged or crashed after being hit however. Official figures say that in 2008 nearly 73,500 people died in road accidents in China, more than 200 fatalities per day. This would equal 5.4 per 100,000 of the population. Though, if WHO figures are to be believed this rises to nearly 16 persons per 100,000 killed on the road.

Very few crashes are reported unless the death toll is particularly high. In Lingbao in Henan Province a minibus crashed on Monday [July 20] killing 9 and injuring 15. Pictures even made it to international news websites including the Wall Street Journal. But for the other 190 killed across China, there was scant coverage.

In one unusual attempt to curb road accidents Chinese police are supplying drivers with chilli peppers to prevent them from falling asleep at the wheel. "It's really good to have some hot peppers when you are tired from driving. They make you alert," driver Chen Jun told one newspaper. Police in the south-western Chongqing region began serving the chili peppers at highway service stations and have distributed more than 1.5 kg of peppers in just nine days. "It's an unbelievable quantity," a police officer is quoted as saying.

The move was inspired by two sleepy drivers from Hunan who asked for peppers to keep them awake. According to Chinese beliefs, people often feel more sleepy in spring. "After a long winter, people have gathered too much fire inside the body, because they tend to eat hot food and wear thick clothes to keep them warm," says doctor Wang Le, from the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. "It kills your vital energy which makes you feel tired in the spring."

Yuan Qinglai, the secretary of the number four team of Chongqing highway police, holds a similar belief. "Because of the change of weather recently, more and more drivers got tired and sleepy easily, especially in the afternoons, and accidents seemed to increase," he said. Yuan believes that the chilli peppers are working well with sleepy drivers. "When Chairman Mao Zedong got tired late at night while he was writing, he would take some peppers to keep his spirit up," the police office said.

It is unclear whether the move by Chongqing police is part of an effort by the government to encourage local police authorities to step up efforts to increase road safety ahead of the National Day later this year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China.
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

1 comment:

Charla Mcguyer said...

Road accidents in China are very frequent. And since car sales there continue to rise, authorities should impose more traffic policies, like the color-coding scheme, and safety obstacles to reduce incidents of road accidents.