Thursday, March 28, 2013


SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Reading the following article might make you want to smack your forehead whilst saying “Oh my God oh my God”, especially if you or someone you know has been hurt in a car accident.


Seat belts are:

a) An indispensable life-saving device
b) Required by law to be worn
c) Those dangly things hanging near people in cars
d) A pain in the arse

Here in China, where the motor car famously arrived sometime yesterday afternoon, most drivers, or people who've been inside a car, might answer “all of the above”. Except of course for a and b.

Those westerners among us of a certain age might remember a time – for me it was the early 70s - when wearing seatbelts was optional. So was smoking during pregnancy, and driving around drunk.

Then, after people kept dying, tons of research was carried out, education campaigns started up, laws were passed, etc etc.

Now there are cars that won’t start unless the seatbelt is clicked. Or, more commonly, when seatbelts aren’t fastened there’s a persistent beeping noise emitted until they are.

As everyone in China knows, that beeping sound can get on your nerves. If only there was some way to make it stop?

Sicne most Chinese people appear to be allergic to seatbelts, many drivers simply fasten the belt first and then sit on top of it. But now there’s a product on the market which not only kills off the beep, but can look stylish too. And you can buy them on web shopping monster Tao Bao for less than a buck.

Here it is - the Beep-away! Banish annoying beeps
and outsmart car manufacturing safety geeks by
simply clicking in these!

Guaranteed to ensure a comfortable ride -
and a smooth, unencumbered passage through
your front windscreen - regardless of what
car you drive!

Now in 'lady bling' - for that extra snazzy
flaunting of road rules.

I know what I'd like to do to those funstoppers down at
the auto factory! Eh?!

This one's even more useful than most,
although, to be fair, it would be annoying
to have that beep going off for the time it
takes to open your beer. Yes, or even Coke.

Or how about something like this, so your child will be
less bored whilst wandering around your moving car,
leaning out the window, et cetera?

Or, better still ...

The 'mini' child restraint!
Yours for only 48 US cents each!

(Ed's note: For the love of Mao. It's hard to
know where to start with this one. But surely
the reason to buy a child restraint is to restrain
a child, no? Oh and let's not forget ...

To be fair, in China seat belts aren't that much of a nuisance, especially in taxis. This is because most drivers simply remove the back seat, stuff the belt contrivances down out of sight, and replace the seat over the top of them. This saves people from having to sit on the hard lumpy bits. You can insist on getting the driver to pull up the seat belts so you can use them. But he will get annoyed. And possibly laugh at your western "scaredy cat" ways.

Official statistics say around 70,000 people are killed on China's roads each year. It's a fair bet - in fact, mountains of research call it "an absolute certainty" - that many of these could be prevented by seatbelts.

But if you aren't a fan of these seat belt hoodwinkers, fear not. There are other ways around the problem of people trying to save your life.

Also available on Tao Bao ...

... the "Up Yours Copper" T-shirt.
 The sales pitch on Tao Bao says
"It's essential for male

Or with this clever get-up, you can fool
police into thinking nobody is driving
your car, so that noone gets fined!

No, that last one was a joke. It's a very clever Hallowe'en costume found on the web (though yes, it possibly too is unsafe as it looks like he's not wearing his seat belt).

*  *  *

Elsewhere in the prickle-laden field of Chinese road safety, debate has been occurring on social media about people outside of - and about to be hit by - cars. Otherwise known as pedestrians.

For reasons yet to become obvious, people appear to be growing worried about what the Chinese themselves call "Chinese-style street crossing". This is despite the fact this issue appears to be very clearly covered by rule of China's Road Laws: "You can all just do what you want".

First a 'tweet' on China's version of Twitter, Weibo, sparked a lively debate on the issue. Now various city governments are trying to crack down on the problem with on-the-spot fines.

And they're off!

Here's a photo from the China Daily
of people attempting to cross a road
in the city of Taiyuan (Motto: We're
the Most Polluted City in the World
According to Various Studies!)
Why they had to go all the way to
Taiyuan to get a photo like this is
not clear.
Like those funny white lines on the
ground, the colourful lights seem to
there mostly for decoration.

Pedestrian fatalities in China are 18 times higher per 100,000 motorised vehicles, than in the United States, according to Ni Ying, who did her doctoral thesis on the dangers of Chinese crossroads.

Ni, a member of Tongji University's School of Transportation Engineering, told Xinhua News Agency, the shocking figure was due to "high rates of pedestrian non-compliance and low rates of driver-yielding behaviour", which is an academic's way of saying "the bleeding obvious". You really don't need to do a thesis to reach those conclusions. A few minutes of walking around a Chinese city - and a few near-death experiences based on expecting cars or pedestrians to stop on certain occasions - should do the trick.

And Dr Ni was only talking about what happens at crossings. There's no mention of the fact most Chinese people also love walking along a road, not just across it.

Walking on roads is a pastime which appears to be held dear to the hearts of most Chinese as something of an inalienable right, despite the fact there's a perfectly good footpath a couple of metres away.

Once, in frustration and despair, I begged my Chinese teacher for an explanation as to why pedestrians here wander happily about roadways, seemingly without any concern for life or limb. She explained it was because any time a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle, it is automatically deemed the driver's fault. Pedestrians thus assume drivers will definitely want to avoid them, because hitting one can be a lot of trouble. So can living in wheelchair, mind you, but each to their own.

Dr Ni's team studied how long Chinese pedestrians could tolerate being kept waiting for lights to change colour before attempting to cross a road, and concluded there was a link between this and jaywalking.

According to the China Daily, their study found the Chinese to be "very patient", saying they would wait up to 90 seconds on average for the light to change.

The study also found documentary evidence of the Tooth Fairy, and concluded that the world would "definitely" end last December.

* And that's all for a few weeks folks as it's holiday time once more! This time, schools break up for the Ching Ming, or 'Tomb Sweeping" festival, which is more of a hoot than it sounds. Back on April 15!


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