When facing the hazards of the capital’s traffic, at least there’s safety in numbers.
TWO months ago, when I first stood at a junction of Jianguo Road in Beijing wishing to cross over, I hesitated for a few seconds.
“Should I or should I not?” I asked myself, although the pedestrian crossing signal was clearly showing the green light.
What held me back was the honking of vehicle horns, as the drivers tried hard to manoeuvre their cars through the more than 30 people hurriedly walking across from both sides of the road.
The same situation occurred when the pedestrian light turned red.
I learned to cross the streets the hard way. Several times, I was almost hit by bicycles or motorcycles, whose riders rampantly rode against the direction of traffic.
So now I get myself inside the big crowd and move with them. Luckily, this is Beijing, and you will never be left alone at intersections.
Motorcyclists and pillion riders must also wear helmets, but you can hardly see one obeying this law.
Roads in Beijing are wide and can stretch up to six lanes in each direction due to the number of motorised vehicles on the road. As of June last year, there were more than 5.44 million cars in this capital city.
China has adopted right-hand traffic regulations (meaning all vehicles are left-hand drive). Vehicles are allowed to turn right during red lights but they must stop for pedestrians.
Pedestrian street lights and zebra crossings are seen at almost every intersection. Unfortunately, they are just considered part of the street decoration or probably just stains on the roads.
Closed circuit television footage that went viral recently has triggered a debate about what happens at road crossings.
In the clip, reportedly taken in Zhumadian of southern Henan province in April, restaurant owner Ma Ruixia, 34, is rammed into by a taxi at a zebra crossing while walking home after closing her shop at around 7pm. She lived just five minutes away from the shop.
The taxi involved did not stop, and neither did several other cars and more than 10 pedestrians.
No one offered any help to Ma, who was lying motionless on the road.
Slightly more than a minute later, she was run over by a second car. This time, the female driver stopped and called an ambulance, but Ma could not be saved.
Police have arrested both the cabbie and the female driver.
Netizens said they understood the “ignorance” of road users, citing previous cases in which Good Samaritans were trapped by unscrupulous people who tried to make fast cash from the kind-hearted community.
In these cases, those who offered help would be accused of causing hurt to the “pretenders”, who would then demand some medical fees.
The Traffic Management Bureau of China’s Ministry of Public Security revealed that nearly 4,000 people died in some 14,000 accidents at zebra crossings nationwide over the past three years.
Among them, 90% of the mishaps were caused by jaywalkers or motorists who failed to give way to pedestrians.
In Beijing itself, 18 people were killed and another 21 injured last year. The Bureau has called for tougher enforcement and sterner punishment for traffic offenders.
In Beijing, traffic police have been stationed at major junctions to enforce the rule since the middle of last month.
Motorists who fail to give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings will be fined 200 yuan (RM126) and three demerit points will be deducted. They will have to sit for the driving test again if they lose all 12 points.
Civilian traffic wardens, who are mostly retired residents of Beijing, also assist in educating motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians by placing retractable barriers to block their way during red lights.
“It is hard, we get scolded all the time but we are doing this for their safety and hope that they will change to make the city a more orderly place for all,” said a middle-aged traffic warden.
In several other cities, traffic police have adopted a more stringent method to encourage road safety: they shame the jaywalking lawbreakers by publicly exposing their pictures and personal information.
Since the facial recognition gadgets were installed in May in Jinan, Shandong province, they have detected more than 6,000 cases involving pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles running the red light, according to Xinhua.
The system, which is linked with the provincial police department database, takes several snapshots and a 15-second video when it detects pedestrians crossing the intersection on a red light.
After the offenders’ identities are confirmed, their pictures and personal information such as ID number and home address are partially displayed on the screen at the respective crossroads.
Such information might also be published on social media, including the Jinan Traffic Police weibo account.
As punishment, offenders could choose between paying a fine of 20 yuan (RM12.70), attending a 30-minute traffic rules course or spending 20 minutes to assist police in controlling traffic.
“In the future, we may inform the offenders’ employers or residential communities of the violation,” Jinan traffic police officer Li Yong told the news agency.
The facial recognition equipment costs around 100,000 yuan (RM63,000) per piece. It is usually installed at automated teller machines (ATM).
Other Chinese provinces which are using it to catch jaywalkers include Fujian, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shandong.
BY BEH YUEN HUI