OPINION> Liu Shinan
Why cry wolfover a fair traffic law
By Liu Shinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-21 07:44

China now seems to have an over-abundance of "experts". Whenever an event arouses public attention, experts jump on the scene to address or offer "professional" advice to people, which is often contrary to public sentiment and common sense.

The latest example is a petition submitted by a few law experts to the National People's Congress (NPC), asking it to review, and possibly annul, a recent Shenzhen municipality law to punish people for traffic rule violations. Though the majority of the public in the southern metropolis have welcomed the new law as necessary and beneficial to improving the city's traffic, the experts have questioned its legality.

Their letter to the NPC focuses on two points. First, they argue, the local law goes against the "Law of the People's Republic of China on Road Traffic Safety", passed by the NPC. Second, they say, the punishments the local law stipulates are very severe.

The experts have said the harsher punishment to be meted out to offenders goes against the stipulations of the national law. They argue that the local law is unnecessary because we have a national law on the subject.

I was stunned by the argument, which is tantamount to saying that a local government cannot draft its own version of a national law. How could the "experts" make such unprofessional remarks? If the logic they use is right, then on what basis will local legislatures pass local laws?

It's true, all national laws are drafted taking into consideration the conditions in different parts of the country. But they cannot be specific enough to suit the conditions in all parts of the country. Local legislators need to pass laws or regulations to address problems specific to their area or region.

Take the new Shenzhen traffic law for instance. The authorities have drafted it to address the serious road safety situation in the developed coastal city, which has more vehicles and worse traffic jams and accidents than, for example, a town in Qinghai province.

Again, the heavier punishment stipulated in the Shenzhen law is suitable to the local conditions. A 200-yuan fine for jumping the red lightmay be unbearable for a resident in the Qinghai town but it is definitely not heavy enough for a motorist in Shenzhen. Places with different conditions need different measures to deal with problem of a similar nature. This is so simple a logic, but the "experts" seem to be ignorant about it. The Shenzhen law prescribes a fine of 1,000 yuan for jumping the red light, which the "experts" say is very high. Nobody wants to jump the red light, they say, though "in many cases, people do it unintentionally for instance, when their car is behind a large vehicle that blocks the traffic lights from their view."

This argument is not convincing to the least. The fact is that most motorists who jump the red light do so intentionally with a try-the-luck mentality. If a motorist follows the rule on keeping safe distance between two vehicles, it would not be difficult for him/her to see the yellow and red lights.

Shenzhen's new traffic law gives enough consideration to the possibility of people violating rules unintentionally. It says minor offenders will be cautioned the first time, and only those found to have violated the rules repeatedly will be fined.

The heaviest fine the Shenzhen law imposes is on people using false license plate numbers: 50,000 yuan. This may be really high, but it is not unreasonable. Forging license plates is an intentional crime. But no matter how high the fine is, a law-abiding citizen shouldn't have anything to fear.