Yellow rule at road junctions making mainland drivers see red

Web users criticise traffic regulation brought into inculcate better driving manners

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 2:51am

A new traffic regulation came into effect on New Year's Day as part of efforts to improve shameful conditions on the road.

But the grumbling is just getting started. Members of the public complain that the new rule will almost certainly worsen already chronic traffic jams.

The rule makes yellow lights at a traffic junction functionally the same as red lights, so drivers get penalised with six demerit points if they cross the stop line after the yellow comes on.

Discussions online were heated, with furious drivers calling it "the strictest traffic regulation in history". Searches for "new traffic light rule" - now a buzz phrase circulating on the microblog service Sina Weibo - were among the most popular on the mainland's largest search engine, Baidu.

Three days after the rule was introduced, the China Daily said one key complaint was that it increased the likelihood of rear-end collisions because drivers would have to brake suddenly to avoid running yellow lights, which previously served as a signal of the imminent red lights.

Even the state-run Xinhua news agency was critical, saying on its weibo that while the intent of the regulation was to better respect life, "small loopholes in the rule are hurting the public".

The Jinan Daily, based in Shandong , said it was technically almost impossible to stop a vehicle before the stop line at a junction when the traffic lights turned to yellow. It quoted experts who said a car needed at least 15 metres to stop.

The West China City Daily, a newspaper in Sichuan , gave a first-person account of an accident caused by a driver seeking to avoid the new penalty. A four-vehicle crash on Wednesday morning was probably caused by the first car in the chain braking suddenly for a yellow light, it reported.

"Who is responsible for this if someone stops abruptly for a yellow light?" the paper quoted one of the accident victims as asking.

An official from the Ministry of Public Security, which came up with the new regulation, provided the official answer on the same day, telling China Central Television that if drivers focused on the road, maintained a safe distance from vehicles in front and slowed down when approaching an intersection, they could avoid rear-end crashes and running yellow lights. The ministry also said traffic had been flowing much more smoothly since the new rule was put in place.

The Global Times praised the ministry, saying it had "listened earnestly to all public opinions despite their different motivations". In an editorial on Friday headlined "Why no public green light for new traffic rules", it called the regulation an important step in rectifying the bizarre driving culture.

"The number of cars is increasing in China, but a civil driving culture hasn't developed alongside it," the paper said. "The new regulations are stricter than the old ones, but this is appropriate to the current reality. There are always unhappy people when new regulations are introduced."

The Xian Evening News said the yellow-light rule was not designed to cause trouble, and people would get used to it in time. It said the prevailing road manners were terrible and yellow lights in mainland China had not been serving the same role they did in Western nations.

"The first thing we have to do is to change the old habit of accelerating when you see a yellow light," the paper said. "The public will get used to the new habit of decelerating and understand the good [intention] behind this new regulation." Rushing to slam the new rule was irrational, it said.

While online critics are happy to have made a noise, the Global Times editorial, reflecting official attitudes, holds out little hope for change. "Some people oppose it because they are not accustomed to it, some highlight real problems, and some just boycott every government proposal," the paper said.

"It is not strange that all these complex opinions are mixed together; China has always been like this when things happen."