Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
And that’s just in 2015. Anger behind the wheel is so common that China has launched a public “road etiquette” program.
Driving in China can be nightmarish—hazardous, even. As if grueling traffic jams and thick blankets of smog blocking road visibility aren’t already bad enough, China’s Ministry of Public Security now says the country also has a serious road rage problem. In 2015 alone, the traffic police recorded more than 17 million cases of heated scuffles between aggressive drivers—a 2.8 increase from the year before. An overwhelming 97 percent of the incidents were committed by men, according to the government.
In one case that took place in May, a male driver in the southwestern city of Chengdu was captured on camera savagely beating a female driver after she made a series of sudden lane changes. In November a driver in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province intentionally forced an ambulance to pull over several times after he had spat with another private car driver.
The news comes just weeks after the World Health Organization released a road safety report estimating that China had more than 260,000 road deaths in 2013. In 2014, national data shows that distracted driving—when drivers eat, use their phones, or even read while behind the wheel— accounted for more than a third of traffic fatalities. Meanwhile, more than 80,000 traffic accidents in 2013 were the result of road rage. And that number went up 2.4 percent in 2014.
The Ministry of Public Security has said that acting on road rage is a severe violation of law. That has not stopped people from destroying one another’s cars or beating their fellow drivers. And China’s murky victim compensation laws don’t exactly help: A lawyer and Fordham University professor sparked debate in September when he wrote that China has an unspoken “hit-to-kill” rule. Writing in Slate, Geoffrey Sant points to cases in which drivers have intentionally run over a pedestrian they’ve hit to avoid bearing the cost of caring for a survivor.
As the number of drivers rises in what is already the world’s leading auto market—with more than 20 million new motorists hitting the road each year, according to the Wall Street Journal—China is looking to clamp down on dangerous and reckless behavior. Last month, the government launched a road etiquette program to “boost public awareness of safe and polite driving,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency reports. The lessons will be carried over mass media to villages and in driving schools to discourage road rage, as well as street racing and drunk driving.