Since March 2016, there has been a very noticeable difference on Shanghai roads. With each month that has gone by, we have seen drivers gradually become more cautious and rule-abiding. It's hard for most people to imagine driving without following road rules but that is considered quite a normal driving style for many drivers throughout China.
"People drive the way they walk. They like to move in packs, and they tailgate whenever possible. They rarely use turn signals. Instead they rely on automobile body language: if a car edges to the left, you can guess that he's about to make a turn... Windshield wipers are considered a distraction, and so are headlights."- Peter Hessler, Country Driving
Unlike the West, many Chinese start driving in their mid to late 20s, whereas in Australia, we can start to learn at 16. So by the time most Westerners have been driving for about 10 years, most Chinese have been driving for a year. Road fatalities in China were around 200,000 in 2014 and Australia had 1,155 fatalities which translates into China having 14 road deaths per 100,000 people and Australia having 5 per 100,000. (I just checked and for 2015, China reported 18.8 per 100,000 while Australia stayed the same.)
So with these kind of numbers plus huge traffic congestion in the cities, the Shanghai city transport department implemented a campaign to crack down on all road offences. The Traffic Offence Campaign targets all road violations including and not limited to; fake car plates, the non-wearing of seat belts, illegal parking, blocking intersections, scooters on footpaths, jay-walking and so on. You may wonder why the road rules were never before enforced but I think it was simply too daunting a task to try and control so many drivers. At the beginning of the campaign, many instances such as the following were common:
' A woman surnamed Wu who rode an e-bike through a red light at the intersection of Jinzhong Road and Xiehe Road in Changning District on Saturday morning refused to stop when asked to and kicked a policeman in the leg. She was detained and fined 50 yuan (US$8).' (Shanghai Daily)
' a young woman surnamed Peng was caught riding a motorcycle without a plate. Police said she narrowly avoided being detained after refusing to cooperate and laying on the ground. She was fined 200 yuan.' (Shanghai Daily)
These days fines start at 20 RMB (riding a scooter on a footpath) to 200 RMB. We've seen countless police officers at busy intersections throughout the city everyday and have to say that they are doing a great job! Drivers are now very observant of traffic lights and slow down when the lights turn orange. Amazing! Before they used to simply drive through and end up blocking the entire intersection. Even we've stopped jay-walking when we see a police officer, as foreigners who are fined have a possibility of having the infringement recorded against their names, which can then affect future visa applications.
We have witnessed a few fines being handed out and the police officers all do it with great professionalism. There is no shouting, no pistols drawn and no ruckus. Quietly and calmly, the officer signals the driver to pull over and while the officer talks to him or her, his partner takes over the supervision of the intersection. News articles have reported that 'since the launch of the city-wide crack down, the police have dealt with over 2.6 million offences..' (Shanghai Daily).
The campaign is going into its fifth month now and doesn't look like it will let up anytime soon. More traffic cameras are being installed and more information is being disseminated to the city's inhabitants. Though there are still too many cars on the roads, with better driving, we'll at least have fewer accidents and more traffic flow.