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‘Running’ yellow lights is illegal in China now

Beijing traffic can use all the help it can get. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese authorities are attempting to improve the country's difficult road conditions with a new law that will almost certainly worsen them. As of Tuesday, yellow lights are now considered functionally the same as red lights. The fine for entering an intersection after a traffic light turns yellow is not the same as for "running" a red light. That fine has also gone up.

The new law says drivers in mainland China are legally obligated to stop at yellow lights as if they were red lights, which would seem to both defeat the entire purpose of having yellow lights and to invite regular catastrophe. A social media user named Sun Yixuan reported crashing into the car in front of him when it stopped suddenly at a yellow light, according to the South China Morning Post. “That car’s rear bumper and back doors were totally destroyed after the collision,” Sun wrote on social media. “Fortunately both drivers were fine.”

Drivers who violate the yellow-light rule just twice are legally required to retake road training and an official exam. Given that motorists will often take just one or two short seconds to screech to a halt before crossing into a yellow light, more accidents seem likely.

Even Xinhua, a major state-run media outlet, couldn't hold back from criticizing the misguided law. "This new rule is against Newton's first law of motion," the news agency observed on its official social media account.

Government bureaucracy is rarely known for its wisdom in any country, but this seems an extreme case. Chinese governance, despite its well-earned international accolades for the canny economic policies that helped lift hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, has a much weaker track record when it comes to road rules. I've never driven in China, but the New Yorker's Peter Hessler has, chronicling such habits as drinking beer during driver's school and the non-use of windshield wipers. 

Given that the new yellow-light law will affect many urban, well-off or well-connected Chinese -- for example, the editors at Xinhua -- don't expect it to last long.



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Olga Khazan · January 2, 2013

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