Tuesday, May 10, 2011

China's road accidents take a murderous turn

'It's cheaper to kill someone than to injure them.'

BEIJING: When 21-year-old Chongqing native Tian Houbo hit a female beggar while driving home from work last December, he simply drove on.

An hour later, he returned - not to help but to back his wheel over the woman to make sure she would not live to talk, the police heard last month.

On Saturday, a driver from Fuzhou, capital of southern Fujian province, allegedly did the same when he reversed his car to run over a girl he had knocked down earlier.

The man, said to be in his 50s, got down to take a look before he got back behind the wheel and drove over the girl again, eyewitnesses told the local media.

The victim, six, died and the driver has since been arrested by police.

These fatal cases come after Xian music student Yao Jiaxin, 21, was sentenced to death last month for stabbing a woman cyclist six times to silence her after she was injured by his moving car last October.

Not only have these tragedies shocked many and led to soul-searching about the lack of morality in China, but they have also highlighted flaws in traffic accident compensation rules.

'It's cheaper to kill someone than to injure them,' Beijing-based lawyer Qi Congjun, who specialises in traffic accident cases, told The Straits Times.

Indeed, 60 of 80 drivers polled by a Chinese newspaper in 2006 said they have heard of the saying that it is better to knock down someone and kill rather than injure him.

For traffic fatalities, a driver compensates by paying a one-off sum, determined by the average income of residents of the city or province where the accident took place, Mr Qi said.

This could be about 500,000 yuan (S$95,000) to 600,000 yuan in Beijing and 200,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan in the less-developed central and western provinces, he noted.

In comparison, motorists who injure someone in an accident could be liable for a long list of bills for the victim in his lifetime.

The expense could be ruinous if the victim is left severely handicapped and needs care for the rest of his life.

Mr Qi cited the case of a footballer from north-east Liaoning province who was paralysed in a road accident and given compensation of four million yuan last year.

'To put it bluntly, you can afford to fatally knock down 10 people for that amount,' he said.

Others also point to how the payout from traffic insurance policies is insufficient to cover the compensation amounts for death or injuries. Mr Qi noted that the payout was only up to 110,000 yuan.

The cases have also reflected a general lack of trust in Chinese society, as the fear of getting into trouble makes some hesitate to help those who need aid.

This is partly because there have been cases where accident victims take the driver involved for a ride by falsifying medical bills.

Eyewitnesses to accidents have also been known to blackmail hit-and-run drivers instead of going to the police.

In the case of Xian student Yao, he stabbed the woman, 26-year-old Zhang Miao, after he saw her copying down his car licence number.

He told police he killed her because he 'feared the peasant would be hard to deal with', Xinhua reported.

As for Chongqing driver Tian, he said he had calculated that nobody would notice that a beggar was missing.

Said Mr Qi: 'I can only say that people's thinking and values are twisted. Instead of simply running away to escape responsibility, some are now killing people on purpose.'