Chinese leader Hu Jintao’s recent meeting with President Obama in Washington, DC has prompted torrents of speculation about the current state of the US-Chinese relationship which, in turn, has required a flurry of updating of the now regularly ongoing comparative analysis of the ‘new China’ versus ‘the West’.
Rex Murphy, for example, writing in the National Post pointed out the implications of China’s recent agreement with the Newfoundland government to begin the importation of seal and seal products into its vast market. While, as he called it “good and rare news for Newfoundland sealers,” he also pointed out that this “gesture” has wider implications, showing as it does China’s indifference to or carelessness of “many of the predominant concerns and values of the progressive West.”
Road Rules notes the reports on the steadily growing auto industry in China and the explosion of auto sales in China to the point where in 2010 it “took the title of the world’s top auto market from the United States.” Reports on the effect of this growth on China’s road safety statistics have also been noted.
A study published in late December 2010 in the World Health Organization’s Bulletin, “Comparing road traffic mortality rates from police-reported data and death registration data in China” has concluded that for the period 2002 to 2007, the rate of death from road traffic injuries based on death registration data was about twice as high as the rate reported by the police.
In 2007, for example, police reported road deaths were 81,649 compared to 221,135 registered road deaths. Police reported rates also showed a declining trend starting in 2002 that followed China’s revision in the late 1990s and early 2000s of its road traffic laws and adoption of many preventive measures that had proved effective in high-income countries such as lower speed limits, standardized road signs and signals, and stricter training and testing for driver licensing.
But this decline was questionable in China’s case because by 2006 its rate was extremely low compared with the rate observed in other low- and middle-income countries, and because it defied the rapid increase in the absolute number of vehicles. A real or at least better understanding of the magnitude of China’s problem with road traffic fatalities was important, said this report, “not only in terms of China’s ability to develop effective measures for preventing and controlling traffic injuries, but also in terms of priority-setting in health at the global level.”
China’s obvious struggle with the many challenges from its almost instant transformation into a ‘self-driving’ car culture is, among other things, a cautionary tale. While our longer-term trends for injury and fatality have steadily improved, we are constantly revising and tweaking our road traffic rules and regulations.
Some regard traffic regulation as problematic—symptomatic of the growing propensity of our governments to over protect—to save us from ourselves, to minimize personal responsibility for any risks taken which thereby restricts our fundamental freedoms. China’s example of unbridled and inexperienced road use reminds us not to take for granted our elaborate, well-developed, and ever-improving system.