Change in mentality vital to stop drivers drinking

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am

As the capital city, Beijing is the heart of one the world's most exciting economies. It is a shame therefore, that the first impression of any foreign visitor to Beijing, is one of horror at the chaos on the roads between the airport and their hotel. Despite all the money being poured into technology for new or updated modes of transport, getting from A to B in Beijing is often still an arduous and nerve-wracking experience. For the city's residents, it can also be life-threatening.

Last year the mainland recorded nationwide vehicle sales of 13.6 million units, up about 45 per cent from 9.38 million units in 2008, surpassing the United States to become the world's biggest automobile market. Last year there were 63 million privately owned vehicles, a figure expected to increase to 75 million by the end of next year. There were 67,759 fatalities from traffic accidents last year, and many more unreported accidents on the road. For anyone who has travelled on the mainland's roads, it might seem obvious the nation's public safety regulations and relevant infrastructure have not been able to keep up with this dramatic vehicle uptake. Nevertheless, the fact that the law categorises drink-driving as an offence punishable only by a maximum 15 days administrative detention still comes as a surprise. A criminal offence is only committed once drink-driving results in an accident.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has proposed criminalising drink-driving, but the law will be largely ineffectual if drivers are unaware of the new legislation and police officers fail to enforce it.

Sadly, the concept of having a 'designated driver' who does not drink has yet to catch on on the mainland, while consumption of alcohol is a key feature of social and business functions. Any new law should therefore be accompanied by a national public education to effect a cultural change, as well as the necessary resources to enforce the law. Otherwise, the millions of new vehicle owners each year will begin symbolising the increasing threat every road user or pedestrian faces each day, rather then the progress seen in the increasing affluence of China's new middle-class.