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2021-03-03 11:06:31

A Chinese vehicle-hailing company’s driver has been formally arrested and charged with manslaughter following an investigation into the death of his female passenger last month.

The police investigation concluded that the Huolala driver, surnamed Zhou, had strayed from the recommended route and taken a dark, isolated street that would have shortened the trip by four minutes, the public security bureau in the central city of Changsha, where the incident took place, said in a statement Wednesday. The driver did not respond to the female passenger when she objected to the new route, nor did he stop her from exiting the moving vehicle through the window.

The 23-year-old woman, surnamed Che, died from severe brain damage on Feb. 10, four days after the incident. The tragic case has again raised concerns over women’s safety stemming from multiple incidents involving female passengers in recent years.

“Twice Che raised concerns that the van was off course. The first time, Zhou ignored her; then (the second time) he expressed dissatisfaction,” the statement said, adding that there were no signs of harassment or violence.

Under China’s criminal law, manslaughter is typically punished by up to seven years in prison.

Ge Lili, a Huolala spokesperson, told Sixth Tone the company will cooperate with the authorities for any further investigation.

Following the incident, Huolala said it would implement seven new safety measures by the end of March to better protect passengers. They include audio recording for all trips — a feature the company was slammed for not already offering.

On social media, some have accused Che of overreacting, while others have blamed the driver for being rude and unprofessional. Many have also defended Chen’s fears, saying previous ride-hailing tragedies still remain fresh in their memories.

“Why might the woman be overreacting? Because she lives in an environment that puts women on edge,” read a popular post on microblogging platform Weibo. “It’s not her fault. She was just trying to protect herself, although it was a miscalculation.”

In recent years, female passengers have been raped and allegedly murdered while using ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing. In 2018, two such incidents prompted a national outcry. The company has since overhauled its safety measures, adding audio recording, a panic button to connect passengers directly with police, and an option to share route details with a passenger’s personal contacts.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A Huolala moving van on a rural road in Huaihua, Hunan province, Feb. 24, 2021. Wu Sandong/People Visual)