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Killers on the road
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The scandal exposed about Shanghai's driving schools provides a clue to the alarming number of traffic accidents on our streets. About 47.2 percent of 1,199 people polled admitted to bribing their driving instructors.

The survey of those who graduated over the last nine years, conducted by the Shanghai Oriental Morning Post, shows that the average bribe paid by each student was 502 yuan. The expenses ranged from paying for lunch or dinner to cigarette cartons and cash gifts to instructors. Many of the students said that they greased the instructors' palms to get more practice time and pass the final test.

The so-called hidden rules exist in most of the more than 100 driving schools across Shanghai, contrary to their explicit rules, which ban instructors from accepting any kind of gifts from students.

By receiving various benefits from students, the instructors have compromised the rules and ethics, and helped licence many unqualified drivers. That may very well explain why new drivers are involved in a large number of road accidents in Shanghai and other cities. That may also explain why reckless driving is so rampant. The driving instructors have turned out to be bad role models. They have moulded many students not into responsible drivers but killers on our road.

Latest figures show that in the first half of this year 29,866 people lost their lives and another 128,336 were injured in 107,193 traffic accidents across the country. Last year, 73,484 people died under the wheel and 304,919 were wounded in a total of 265,204 traffic accidents.

Although the numbers are dramatically down from the previous year, they are still alarmingly high compared to countries such as the US, which have far more cars.

The scandal in Shanghai calls for an immediate probe and revamping of the driving school and test system. In the last few days, 10 driving schools in Shanghai have announced measures to check unscrupulous conduct. While this may be welcome, this alone is not enough to rid our driving schools and test system of the deep-rooted corruption. Cities like Shanghai need to set up a strict supervision system to keep driving schools clean. Driver's license test should be so designed as to leave no rent-seeking opportunities for officials and instructors.

This is a matter of great importance and urgency, for Shanghai and other cities, too. If our driving schools and driving instructors and officials are compromised, it means that there will be more killers on our roads and more lives will be lost due to the failure of the driving school and test system.

With more private cars hitting the road and more people getting a driver's license, we cannot afford to wait even for a day more to put an end to this rot.

(China Daily August 10, 2009)

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