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2017-11-20 13:53:58

Beijing police have discovered that a dishonest motorist risked life and limb on a daily basis to deliberately cause over 300 traffic accidents and extort his victims for cash settlements, Beijing Youth Daily reported Saturday. The driver, surnamed Wang, has been sentenced to nine months in prison and fined 10,000 yuan ($1,500).

According to the report, Wang first struck gold in 2013, when another vehicle scratched the side of his own while trying to merge into his lane. The amount of money Wang was offered in compensation far exceeded repair fees, prompting him to pursue a “career” in pengci: a Chinese term that translates to “bumping into porcelain” and has come mean feigning injury to claim compensation from an innocent bystander.

Wang’s modus operandi was simple: Once he noticed a vehicle trying to merge into his lane, he would alter his speed — accelerating if the other car was ahead, slowing down if behind — to cause a fender-bender. Beijing Youth Daily quoted the public prosecutor of the capital’s Haidian District as saying that at first glance, Wang appeared to be in the right, as cars merging into other lanes do not have right-of-way over vehicles already in those lanes.

In some cases, traffic police would show up and insurance companies would pay for the cost of body work, a new paint job, or a new side-view mirror. However, in other cases — especially those involving bus or taxi drivers — the victims were reluctant to get the police involved, as having a tarnished driving record could affect their salary. Instead, these professional drivers preferred to settle informally and out-of-pocket, paying Wang as much as 4,000 yuan to keep the authorities away.

“Most drivers just pay the pengci scammers in these cases because they know they’re also at fault,” Zhang Yunquan, a lawyer specializing in traffic law in Beijing, told Sixth Tone. Apart from professional drivers worried about their jobs, Zhang added, ordinary people, too, often prefer to settle on the spot, especially if they’re in a hurry or had, say, a few beers during lunch.

“The only appropriate way to deal with pengci is to be tough and call the police, as their actions constitute extortion,” Zhang advised.

Wang’s spotty driving record went unnoticed until January of this year, when police in Haidian District discovered hundreds of incidents involving Wang — in some cases, as many as three per day.

In 2010, a 66-year-old man was sentenced to seven years in jail for feigning injury after wandering into traffic and getting bumped — to the tune of 120,000 yuan in illicit earnings. And in October 2017, a former anchor for state broadcaster China Central Television was detained by police for driving drunk, though netizens suspected a pengci-related accident had led to the man being apprehended.

Such unscrupulous behavior by a few has caused the many to become more cynical and guarded when it comes to intervening in the affairs of others. To ensure that would-be good Samaritans don’t turn a blind eye in emergencies, cities like Shanghai have passed regulations to protect the rights of people who step in and help rather than stand back and watch.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A man lying under a car he claims struck him demands compensation from the driver, Zhuzhou, Hunan province, Oct. 13, 2016. Cun Li/VCG)