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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: June 15, 2015 NO.25 JUNE 18, 2015
Fast and Furious

How can road-borne rapscallions be reined in?

By Yuan Yuan  

A wrecked Lamborghini lies in the center of a Beijing underpass after a crash involving a Ferrari in a high-speed road race on April 11 (CFP)

A lime green Lamborghini and a red Ferrari crashed on a Beijing highway while racing on April 11. The collision left the front of the Lamborghini completely wrecked, while the Ferrari suffered damage to its side and rear. The scene was one that shocked China online and offline, with the overall picture resembling a scene from the popular The Fast and the Furious series of movies, the seventh installment of which had launched in China only two hours after the incident.

The two drivers, both 20, were reported to be from the same automobile club. On May 21, they were sentenced to detention for five months and four months for dangerous driving.

Residents living nearby revealed that there are always cars racing on the highway late into the night.

Game without winners

Within a month of the crash, another incident in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province, sparked public debate on road safety once more. The cars were not as fast, but one of the drivers was certainly more furious.

On May 3, a video uploaded online shows an incident that occurred at an overpass in Chengdu. A male driver forced another car to stop and furiously dragged the female driver out and beat her, kicking and punching the woman's face and head, flinging her to the ground.

The video soon went viral online. The man later claimed that it was because the woman's sudden changing of lanes forced him to brake suddenly and frightened his 1-year-old child in the back seat.

While there were outpours of criticism against the man, a video from the dashboard camera installed in the man's vehicle was released, showing the incident in its entirety.

It all began when the female driver, surnamed Lu, abruptly changed lanes to avoid missing her exit, thereby cutting off the car of the male driver, Zhang, who was then forced to slam on his brakes. Zhang was with his wife and infant child, who began crying. He followed Lu off the main road, overtook her, and then cut her off as she had done to him. A few hundred meters later, Lu overtook Zhang again, driving him into the bicycle lane and almost forcing him to hit a pedestrian.

They drove side by side for a stretch and both got angry and shouted at each other through their car windows. Zhang said he then decided to resolve the problem with violence.

Mainstream public opinion began to take a dramatic shift. Many expressed their understanding for the man, claiming the woman "deserved" the beating.

"The man's actions were indeed brutal, but the woman is not worthy of sympathy either," said Zhang Chunyun, a Beijing taxi driver. "She has no idea of road etiquette and it is always a headache to come across such a driver on the road."

Zhang was taken into criminal detention and Lu was taken to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a cerebral concussion, several broken bones and severe bruising.

As a result of the public debate over the video, the security ministry issued a statement on May 8 calling on drivers to follow traffic rules and keep restrained.

"Offensive driving is a severe violation of the law and it disrupts order and endangers traffic safety," the ministry said in the statement. "Drivers should consciously rein in their road rage."

This was not the end of the story. Irritated by the woman's reckless driving, netizens started to uncover Lu's private information online. On May 11, Lu published an open letter on the Southern Metropolitan Daily on May 11. "I am sorry for my rash and illogical driving," wrote Lu Qin in the letter. "My family and I have felt the full force of online violence, and it has hurt my family badly, which is why I don't wish for the same to be inflicted on Mr. Zhang and his family. We have all paid the price."

Keeping calm

"It seems that people nowadays are easily incensed while driving," said Zhou Lijun, a 34-year-old driver in Beijing. "Every driver I know has unhappy driving experiences. We have a saying: if you want to get a person angry, just put a steering wheel in his hands."

Zhou thinks that congestion and work stress are the two prime reasons for this. "When you need to be at the office on time but are stuck on the road, it is hard to remain quiet and nice," said Zhou.

The phenomenon has been further highlighted by a survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in which 35 percent of 900 respondents admitted they had been guilty of aggressive driving including sudden lane changes and overtaking by force.

About one in three drivers surveyed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou said they were part of a "road-rage tribe," getting into fights with other drivers, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

Another survey by the Chinese Medical Doctor Association reveals that approximately 80 percent of drivers have encountered road rage attacks. Nearly 20 percent of traffic accidents ranging from collision and injury to even death have been triggered by road rage.

Figures from the Ministry of Public Security show that since January 2012, about 100 million road-rage attacks have been reported. Incidents arising from drivers forcefully changing lanes or disregarding the right of way rose 10 percent in the first four months of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014. More than 80,000 traffic accidents in 2013 were the result of road rage.

China surpassed the United States to become the world's largest automobile market in 2010. Over the past five years, the number of motor vehicles on China's roads has been growing at an explosive rate. Traffic congestion has become a ubiquitous phenomenon in each and every metropolis.

Meanwhile, second- and third-tier cities are also seeing a relentless rise in car ownership, with the public reaping ever more benefits from the country's unprecedented economic development. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of China's affluent population will reside in second- and third-tier cities by the end of 2015.

At the same time, the driving schools being blamed for management loopholes. Some schools are overcrowded and poorly run.

The Chinese Government has announced plans to relax rules on how people learn to drive in late 2014--allowing them to take lessons with family members or friends, rather than only in official driving schools as in the past.

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

Comments to yuanyuan@bjreview.com

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