China marks first road safety day

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, December 2, 2012
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China marked its first national day for road safety on Sunday with exhibitions, lectures and online discussions exhorting pedestrians and drivers to observe traffic signals, with failure to adhere to them blamed as a major cause of deaths on the country's roads.

The day, scheduled by the State Council on Dec. 2, took traffic signals as its particular focus this year, with reports saying running red lights claimed 798 lives in the first 10 months of 2012.

Publicity and educational activities were held across Chinese cities as experts blame a lack of awareness for rampant breaches of traffic rules in the country.

In the northern province of Hebei, government workers were deployed on the streets to deliver pamphlets and persuade pedestrians to obey traffic rules.

"I didn't know until today that so many pedestrians run red lights," said Liu Zhigang, a banner-holding volunteer from Hebei's department of education.

Proposed by the Ministry of Public Security, the day aims to improve people's awareness of road safety and the related legal system, as well as road courtesy. The timing was based on the date Dec. 2 for its appearance as "122," the telephone number for reporting road accidents in China.

The day was marked in the northeastern city of Liaoyuan in Jilin Province with cash rewards issued to 400 "model drivers" selected from professional drivers and private car owners with good traffic records.

"By awarding good drivers, we hope to encourage a trend of respecting traffic rules," said Liu Wei, an official with the city government of Liaoyuan.

Chinese traffic authorities also beefed up online publicity, using their accounts on Chinese Twitter-style migroblogging sites to appeal for improved road behavior.

One widely circulated named 10 bad traffic habbits including bad overtaking, throwing garbage out of a running car's window and driving without tightening the safety belt, while netizens have created their own lists while retwittering.

The Ministry of Public Security said in recent years, 70,000 people have died and 300,000 others have been injured in road accidents in China annually.

More than 80 percent of the country's road accidents are caused by violations of traffic rules, the ministry added.

In October, the topic of "Chinese-style road crossing" created heated online discussions on the widespread disregard of traffic rules. The buzz word describes Chinese pedestrians' tendency to form a group to cross roads when the light is red.

Experts said China needs to enhance education, infrastructure and legislation building as more middle-class citizens drove onto roads, boosting sales in what is now the world's biggest market for automobiles.

Statistics shows China has 238 million vehicles and 256 million drivers as of October, 2012, with an average annual increase of more than 16 million vehicles and 20 million drivers during the last five years.

But the evolution of the "bicycle kingdom" toward one of automobiles has not been accompanied by improvements in traffic awareness. "Many Chinese drive cars as if they are riding a bike," said Liu Pan, professor and researcher on road safety at Southeast University.

"China should stress education on new drivers and impose stricter exams to prevent disqualified drivers from hitting the roads," said Zhang Mingsuo, sociology professor at Zhengzhou University.

Penalties on rule-breaking pedestrians and bikers are also required, Zhang said, to discourage their road misbehaviors that are also rising as a major cause of accidents.

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