Police may prohibit foreigners involved in traffic accidents from leaving the country until the cases are settled.
The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) said on Wednesday this new authority has been added to the Provisions on the Procedures for Handling Traffic Accidents, and will take effect in January.
However, it will be subordinate to the Regulations of China Concerning Consular Privileges and Immunities as well as other international conventions and agreements signed between China and other countries and international organizations, the MPS said.
Wang Qiang, an official with MPS's traffic management bureau, said the provision conforms to international practices.
"Serious traffic accidents can lead to civil and criminal liability. Many other countries have similar regulations concerning foreigners involved in accidents," Wang told China Daily.
The country is now attracting more and more foreign visitors, and a situation may arise where a foreigner involved in a traffic accident leaves the country before the case is settled. This could delay court proceedings, and a failure to compensate.
"With more foreigners coming to China they could be involved in more road traffic accidents, the new provision helps protect their interests as well as the local people," Wang said.
Zhang Xinbao, a law professor with Renmin University of China, said the regulation also applies to the Chinese people.
"A Chinese citizen is also forbidden to leave the country when facing an unresolved lawsuit," Zhang said.
The provision also enables public security departments to request courts to grant the seizure of properties until cases are resolved. Police may also seize the driving licenses of foreigners covered by diplomatic immunity, and face investigation if they agree.
The payment of compensation or damage by foreign parties covered by diplomatic immunity will be solved through diplomatic channels if they refuse to be investigated.
MPS figures show that more than 44 million foreigners visited China in 2006, almost double the number in 2001.
About 70,000 foreigners reside in Beijing, and Shanghai has more than 300,000 foreign residents.
In Beijing, minor traffic accidents involving Chinese residents and foreigners can be dealt in the same manner as between Chinese, Mei Bingsong, an official with the Beijing municipal traffic management bureau, said.
"Remove the vehicles from the scene to prevent a traffic jam and discuss an agreement, or call the police if no agreement can be reached," Mei said.
Traffic police will be able to deal with the situation if damage is less than 2,000 yuan ($300).
If the accident is serious it will be reported to the bureau's foreign affairs department for further investigation.