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Road tragedies scream for ethics and rules

[ 2010-09-16 17:50]     字号 [] [] []  
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The nation has been shocked by the tragic death of a 3-year-old boy who was run over by a luxury car more than once and by the driver's behavior.

A local newspaper reported the tragedy on Sept 13 and media outlets subsequently re-broadcast the video recording.

In just two days, the number of netizens commenting on the incident reached 503,589 on the QQ.com website alone, topping the figure for all other news.

The BMW X6 vehicle apparently ran over the boy four times in less than 30 seconds in a residential community of Xinyi, a small city in East China's Jiangsu province on Sept 7.

A surveillance camera recorded the whole event. The driver of the deluxe sport utility vehicle (SUV) was seen reversing his car and knocking down the boy who was playing behind it. The vehicle stopped for a moment before running over the boy's body with its left rear wheel. The motorist then drove ahead to run over the toddler for a second time. He stopped the SUV and got out but the vehicle continued to roll backward with both of its left wheels running over the boy. The man looked at the body lying in a pool of blood but left without doing anything to rescue the toddler.

The boy's father said the driver must have killed his son deliberately, considering that the one-time compensation for a dead person would cost much less than paying for an injured child for the rest of his life. Online comments on the issue are divided, with the majority agreeing with the father's allegation. Others argue that the driver might not have intentionally killed the child and committed the act out of panic and inexperience. Local police are investigating the case.

The driver's behavior would definitely be heinous if he is proven to have intentionally killed the boy. But even if no willful intention is found on the part of the driver, the behavior is still no less disgusting. It is even more worrying because it shows a terrible apathy for the possible loss of human life or possible injury to others.

This is exactly what is common among a considerably large number of Chinese motorists, especially those who had bought their first automobiles in recent years.

As China's economic growth and wealth accumulation quickened in the past decade, Chinese people suddenly realized that owning a private car was no longer the privilege of a small segment of society. Private car ownership has risen dramatically in the past decade. In 2003, when privately owned sedans were included in the country's official statistics for the first time, there were 4.95 million of these vehicles across the country. The number soared to 26.05 million by the end of last year, a fivefold increase. Twenty years ago, the number was only 820,000.

The sudden arrival of the so-called "automobile age" has seen many people scrambling to own a car. Sitting behind the wheel in that enclosed space, new motorists often feel as if they have everything to themselves. Hence, there has also been a slew of reckless behavior in driving. Many motorists do not stop or slow down when they approach a zebra crossing for pedestrians. They speed through the pools on the road to splash rainwater on passers-by. They change lanes without signaling. They never turn off their blinding headlights on a two-way road at night. They drive onto the shoulder of a highway when spotting a jam ahead.

In most cases, they do not intentionally behave in these ways. They simply do not have the sense to spare a thought for other road users. They are not conscious that their acts are posing a danger to other people - and to themselves. They are simply selfish.

In a forum discussing urban transportation held in 2008, Duan Liren, a road traffic researcher, said: "The fatality rate on China's roads now is the highest in the world." Whether the claim is correct or not is open to debate, but the chaotic state on most of China's roads is apparent.

The authorities have shown great concern about the problem and have taken drastic measures to address it. They have launched campaigns to crack down on motorists who beat red lights or drive under the influence of alcohol. But they seldom mete out serious punishment to motorists making "minor mistakes" such as refusing to yield to pedestrians and keeping their headlights on at oncoming vehicles at night.

It is these "minor mistakes" that best mirror the poor road ethics of Chinese motorists. If such mistakes are not dealt with as seriously as with drunk driving, Chinese drivers will never change their bad habits and there will never be a gracious "automobile culture" in China.

The author is Assistant Editor-in-Chief of China Daily and can be reached at liushinan@chinadaily.com.cn.

About the author:

刘式南 高级编辑。1968年毕业于武汉华中师范学院(现华中师范大学)英文系。1982年毕业于北京体育学院(现北京体育大学)研究生院体育情报专业。1982年进入中国日报社,先后担任体育记者、时政记者、国际新闻编辑、要闻版责任编辑、发稿部主任、《上海英文星报》总编辑、《中国商业周刊》总编辑等职。现任《中国日报》总编辑助理及专栏作家。1997年获国务院“特殊贡献专家政府津贴”。2000年被中华全国新闻工作者协会授予“全国百佳新闻工作者”称号。2006年获中国新闻奖二等奖(编辑)。


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(作者刘式南 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)