China has a traffic problem, the ongoing love affair with the automobile has turned into a binge consumption spree that has obviously spilled out onto the roads. In previous years red lights were seen as â€˜sort of optionalâ€™ when it came to stopping to allow other cars passed, especially if there werenâ€™t any cameras overhead monitoring that particular junction. As of January 1st, going through an orange light became illegal and subject to a six point fine, a considerable fine considering that your driving license only comes with 12 points to start with, accidentally go through two orange lights and your license is suspended.
So what actually happened on January 1st? China has been going through a cold snap of late, many cities are experiencing record temperature lows that has covered once temperate cities in a blanket of snow, which turned to ice, which stayed on the roads over the New Year periods due to it being so cold. Now you have a perfect recipe for a rash of rear end collisions and that is exactly what happened â€“ rear end collisions everywhere from drivers who try to beat the orange but inevitably slam their brakes on at the last minute to avoid the potential six point fine.
Local police departments lauded their first catches on front pages of city daily papers on January 2nd, but soon realized the errors of their ways when the tailgate crash numbers mounted up. Forces such as Shenzhen Police in Guangdong Province said they would not enforce the orange light rule, but were quickly rebuked by Guangdong Central province, but Shenzhen being the free for all city stuck to its guns. Other cities followed Shenzhenâ€™s lead and partly due to their own rising rear end crash toll, and decided against the orange light ban but continued to enforce the six points for running a red light rule. If you run an orange light in China now, you will likely get a reprimand at the next time you go for your annual automotive inspection but you probably wonâ€™t receive a fine. Probably.
Other measures came into effect on January 1st, talking on your cellphone whilst driving is a 200RMB fine with a 3 point fine, if your front passenger does not have a seatbelt or is under the age of 14 you can expect a 50RMB/1point fine or a 200RMB fine and 6 point fine respectively, not giving way to pedestrians is a 3 point fine, if you actively keep your license plates dirty, disguise or remove them you will receive a 12 point fine, if youâ€™re cruising at 50% over the speed limit you can receive a 12 point fine, using the hard shoulder of a motorway to overtake or stop for no reasons will net yourself a 6 point fine, if you are under the influence of alcohol your license is suspended for 5 years, if youâ€™re under the influence of drugs say goodbye â€“ permanently â€“ to your license.
Chinese drivers were shocked when the orange light rule came into play on Jan 1st, despite it being reported on several months before hand. The law brings China in line with countries such as the UK where it is illegal to go through an orange light if your car is behind the stop line when the light turns orange â€“ or amber, if youâ€™re in the UK. However, if your car is already over the line when the light turns orange you will not be fined, running an amber light in the UK this will get you 3 points on your license but that will eventually affect your insurance premiums, not so in China!
Driving schools have also received notice to tighten up their courses and raise fees. Driving schools will now teach a civilized driving course and all driving schools must adhere to a new electronic test on their test cars which takes the ability to bribe the testing official, who used to sit alongside of you, out of the equation. Driving schools in second and third tier cities generally charge around 4000RMB per person whilst first tier cities such as Beijing have seen driving schools charge over 10,000RMB. If you lose your license due to uncivilized driving, youâ€™re going to have to go back through the system once again. Who are the winners in this new round of legislation? It seems that driving schools are going to be pulling in money once people have jumped a few red lights.
Will these lead to people driving with more care? Of course not. As a post-Christmas fatty Ive taken to riding my bike to the office, a 20km round trip, and I still see the same old habits everyday but then again we are only a week into the year so perhaps once those points start to mount we will see some real change.