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Nation gets serious about seatbelt use

Nation gets serious about seatbelt use

Updated: 2012-03-29 07:35

By Xin Dingding and Zhi Yun (China Daily)

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Traffic authorities have mounted a campaign to get people to use seatbelts to reduce fatalities on the road.

A campaign initiated by three central government agencies requires that all commercial motor vehicles that use expressways have seatbelts installed.

Currently, only 30 percent of commercial motor vehicles of passenger transport have seatbelts, according to the Ministry of Transport, one of the organizers.

The campaign, lasting through the end of the year, will also include educating the public on passengers' better chance of surviving crashes when they wear seatbelts.

Seatbelt use will be checked on long-haul buses before they can depart.

Inspections by the ministries of transport and public security will also check vehicles on highways. No penalties have been set yet for not using seatbelts. The campaign follows a string of fatal road accidents.

Last year, there were two deadly road accidents that each killed more than 30 people, something that "has not happened in years", Feng Zhenglin, deputy minister of transport, said at a televised announcement of the seatbelt initiative on Wednesday.

In the first three months of this year, there were five road accidents that killed more than 10 people each.

"We used to organize short-term inspections and accidents caused by vehicle overloading or driver fatigue were reduced, but many lasting problems have not been addressed," he said.

Those problems include that many long-haul bus drivers have no strong awareness of safety, and many vehicles lack safety equipment such as seatbelts.

Also, "passengers basically have no consciousness that they should wear a seatbelt," he said.

A survey by Auto Safety Exhibition China Tour 2009 in which 1,081 visitors were polled in major cities showed that only 21 percent of the surveyed wore seatbelts whenever they were in a moving car, and 24 percent never wore seatbelts.

The other 55 percent used seatbelts at times. Some people would wear seatbelts only when they were driving, when they were on an expressway or when traffic police were around. Of those people, most would not use seatbelts if they were in the rear seat.

A long-haul bus driver who works between Beijing and Hebei province said that most passengers decline to wear seatbelts because "it makes them feel constrained and uncomfortable".

Because of that, many passengers on buses that had serious accidents died when they could have survived, experts said.

In China, the number of deaths and of injuries from road accidents are close to the same, while in developed countries the death toll is only 2 percent of the injured, according to official statistics.

Zhang Yu, an analyst with Automotive Foresight (Shanghai) Corp, said that is common in societies such as China where the automotive culture is not fully developed.

"Many people have owned cars only for a few years and they have not developed awareness yet," he said.

Transport laws have been revised twice in recent years, and the latest revision requires both the driver and passengers to wear seatbelts, but there are no severe penalties for people who don't.

"A more serious problem is that there is no strict enforcement," Zhang said.

As car ownership and the length of highways both quickly increase in China, safety authorities said that they face a huge challenge.

Wang Dexue, deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety, said at an on-site meeting for comprehensive supervision of national work safety on March 23 that road safety will become more complicated, because the country's expressway network will grow by 10,000 kilometers annually until 2015.

The total length of highway network will reach 150,000 km by the end of 2015.

And, although the number of people killed in road accidents has been declining since 2008, accidents on the roads still account for more than 80 percent of all accidental deaths in China, according to the administration.