Wednesday, October 02, 2013

UK police catch shaving drivers. In China it's a free for all

This last week in Britain saw police waging war on motorists, snapping evidence of nearly 200 drivers using mobile phones, shaving, reading and even brushing their teeth at the wheel. But such behaviour is commonplace in other parts of the world and often leads to disastrous results.

Operation Tramline

The five-day operation across Hampshire and the Thames Valley in the south of Britain resulted in 198 motorists being prosecuted using footage filmed from an unmarked lorry.

The most observed offence was people's use of a cell phone with some 126 motorists caught making calls.

However police also recorded evidence of others using iPads, reading newspapers and even shaving at the wheel. One lorry driver was spotted brushing his teeth, with a water bottle in one hand and razor in the other. Meanwhile a  woman was seen doing her make-up, using her rear view mirror as she drove on the motorway at 70 mph [110 km/h]. Another female driver was caught accessing Facebook on her mobile phone whilst driving on the M27.

Other offences caught on camera were drivers failing to use their seatbelts, driving with undue care and attention and of parking on the motorway without a proper reason [BBC / Portsmouth News].

Proven danger

Such behaviour is certainly inappropriate, and even dangerous. Sergeant Paul Dimond, who co-ordinated Op Tramline, said, "Distracted driving is proven to be a significant factor in many of the collisions on our roads."

"These offences are being committed by otherwise law abiding and hardworking people. Unfortunately it is that same group of people that are being hurt as a result of the accidents."

Whilst the operation highlights that the message concerning safety has not reached everyone driving on Britain's roads, Sgt Dimond said that the vast majority of the motorists observed during the week were driving safely and in compliance with the law.

Indeed Britain has some of the safest roads in the world.

The same cannot be said in other developing countries where the offences observed by Hampshire and Thames Valley police are commonplace.

China's road dangers

If police in China were to enforce British driving rules they would not only bring in large amounts of revenue, a great many motorists would likely find themselves banned from driving.

Use of handheld mobile phones is commonplace with few drivers even considering the dangers involved. Indeed it is not uncommon to see people texting or using the popular social network WeChat on their phones.

The rules of the road in China are entirely different and lane discipline is almost unheard of. Drivers often fail to indicate their intentions and cut into traffic lines, dangerously overtake or undertake and continually use their horns.

Children at risk

While the use of seatbelts is increasing many people in China do not consider safety to be a priority. Few motorists use a car seat for their children or babies and parents are often seen simply holding their child in their arms as the car speeds along the highway [China Daily].

And whilst car ownership is rising, mopeds are a more common form of transport. As such entire families can be seen packed onto the two wheeled conveyance, none of them wearing any form of head protection. British police officers would likely be astounded should they see some of the sights seen on China's streets.

Xinhua News Agency reported that about 18,500 children under age 14 die in traffic accidents in China every year, though the figure could be much higher.

A child who weighs 10 kg and is travelling at 50 km/h in a car has a force impact of 300 kg in a crash, according the China Automotive Technology and Research Center. "At this speed, it's impossible to protect a child," Liang Mei,executive vice-president of the China Toy and Juvenile Products Association, says. "In some tragedies, children are even thrown through the windshield."

Ignoring risks

But despite the risks, many parents ignore the dangers or give up due to their child's protestations. "I understand the importance, but it was hard to get into the habit of using it, both for her and me," says one 41-year-old Beijing resident. "The seat took up too much room in my little car. Plus, my daughter felt uncomfortable and kept crying. … So I finally gave up."

Indeed space is certainly an issue for many drivers. Entire families might pack themselves into a single saloon car before setting off on a trip. Even if two cars are available, families will rather squeeze everyone in one car in order to save on fuel. So there might be the driver, along with a front seat passenger holding a child, despite the additional risk of an airbag activation. Meanwhile in the back might sit another mother with child plus three other adults, all packed into a seat designed for three!

City driving is fraught with dangers as buses, cars, mopeds and bicycles vie for space, and while motorways are considerably safer, dangers still exist with many ignoring rules and common sense. It is certainly not unusual, for example, to see a driver stop at the apex of a junction in order to check a map or make a phone call.

The result of such behaviour translates into unnerving statistics with China having one of the worst accident records in the world.

Deadly statistics

Whilst a 2009 report published suggested that road accidents might have fallen due the worldwide economic downturn, the same was not true of China [tvnewswatch: Road deaths drop due to recession except in China / / Xinhua].

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 saw 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 also climbing. 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 approximately 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 deaths and injuries would also likely be much reduced if drivers were to wear seat belts, parents used car seats and motorcyclist's adorned crash helmets.


Aside of such obvious safety factors there needs to be a better understanding of how distractions at the wheel, whether it be mobile phones or other electronic devices, can increase the risk of having an accident.

It has been an uphill struggle to educate British drivers concerning the use of seatbelts and not using mobile phones. China has a long way to go in this regard.

tvnewswatch, Shanghai, China

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