2016-08-22 08:57:14

In China, the life of a pedestrian is anything but. Even short-term visitors to the country are often surprised by the lax attitudes of many Chinese to basic rules of the road.

As a result, an afternoon stroll along the busy streets of Beijing or Shanghai can be an adventure in life-preservation.

Electric bikes — called “silent killers” by locals — regularly use sidewalks as expressways, whizzing by unsuspecting strollers with kamikaze-like focus. At pedestrian crossings, the walk signal is widely interpreted by drivers as a cue to hit the pedal and speed right past any brave soul foolish enough to stray from the sidewalk.

Earlier this month, the Public Security Bureau of sunny Sanya, a city on the southern island province of Hainan, decided it had seen enough flagrant violations of traffic laws.

According to the Weibo microblog account of a local newspaper, 20 plainclothes police have been patrolling the city’s streets for red-light runners. Using recording devices, the officers document the violations before following the offenders to deliver warnings and promote awareness of the rules of the road.

When Sanya resident Wang Xianmei, 49, ran a red light at the intersection of Youyi and Jiefang roads, an officer followed her 8 kilometers to her home, where he proceeded to “educate” her and her family using safety videos and pamphlets. In the end, Wang was asked to write a letter of repentance in lieu of paying a fine. Wang said she realized the danger of what she did and, admitting her mistake, promised never to run a red light again.

Chen Lunan, head of the special delegation of traffic police, told state news agency Xinhua that the policy of tracking violators to their homes and workplaces to educate them, in person, on road safety had been in effect since September 2015 and would continue for the foreseeable future. While Article 73 of the police code of conduct prohibits officers from using motor vehicles to pursue traffic law violators except in life-threatening or otherwise extreme cases, Chen said that having his men wear plain clothes keeps them within legal parameters.

In a commentary that appeared on the official Weibo microblog of The Beijing News, legal expert Wu Yuanzhong disagrees, arguing that the invasive policy violates Article 87 of China’s Regulation on the Implementation of the Road Traffic Safety Law, which states that police officers should correct unlawful behavior in due time. “For the department of law enforcement,” Wu writes, “new policies should be established on the basis of legal provisions.”

Sanya police could not be reached when contacted by Sixth Tone on Monday.

Net users’ opinions on the policy have been mixed. One user who appreciated the new measures wrote: “By educating violators, the police alert more people to follow the law and promote road safety. This has an extraordinary effect on improving the safety and awareness of our whole society!”

A second, more indignant comment read: “One person runs a red light and the whole family has to study traffic rules. This policy goes against the modern notion of ‘He who is guilty must take responsibility.’”

Additional reporting by Wang Lianzhang. With contributions from Colum Murphy.

(Header image: A police officer directs traffic at an intersection in Sanya, Hainan province, July 24, 2015. Sun Qing/IC)