*Warning: Some images and video links in this post contain graphic content.*
‘Look both ways before you cross the road.’ I instilled that lesson in both of my children as they grew up. When we traveled to the continent and visited family in the United States, I reiterated the importance of this lesson because everything was backward from what we knew in Britain. But no matter how well-heeded this advice may be, in China, where a phenomenon has developed in which drivers intentionally try to kill pedestrians, apparently no one is safe.
In China, and Taiwan, this problem has existed for decades, although in recent years, the situation has become progressively worse. In the day and age of video recordings on mobile phones, CCTV, and surveillance cameras, more of these hit-to-kill incidents are making their rounds on the internet. One of the underlying causes for this phenomenon was that when it became a serious problem in the late 1980s, it was easy for defendants to claim that they had no idea that they had hit a person and because there was no footage of the incident, they were not sentenced to prison time.
The other underlying cause involves the Chinese legal system. The way the laws are written currently, if a driver kills a pedestrian, they have to make a one-time payment to the deceased person’s family. On average, this amount is between $30,000 and $50,000. However, the same laws specify that if a pedestrian is only injured during a traffic accident, than the guilty driver is responsible for all costs associated with lifetime care. A recent case revealed that an injured pedestrian’s healthcare costs were nearly $375,000 over the course of twenty years. In other words, Chinese drivers have a major financial incentive to kill someone with their car.
Despite the litany of moral objections this might raise, the statistics show that Chinese drivers have relatively few qualms about the process. Graphic images and videos have begun springing up showing drivers hitting someone, be it a small child or an elderly man, and then repeatedly backing up and driving over the individual until they’re certainly dead. Other footage shows people even being so bold as to step out of their car and allow it to back up slowly so that they can position the vehicle to better crush the body.
Even with the preponderance of evidence, corrupt Chinese courts are still letting drivers guilty of hit-to-kill incidents off with only minor fines. Time and time again, a mere slap on the wrist is all that these murderers receive. An unlicensed woman, arrested for killing a two-year-old girl by backing over her twice, had her initial sentence of four years reduced to two years. Multiple drivers have gotten away with intentionally killing pedestrians by claiming that they thought the object was a bag of trash. Even in a day and age when people wear plastic bags as clothing, that is an unacceptable excuse.
Chinese legislators are trying to make changes to the penal code so that hit-to-kill incidents become a thing of the past. Steps in the right direction are visible, including the convictions of Yao Jiaxin and Zhang Qingda, the former for running down a bicyclist and the latter for crushing an old man to death. Jiaxin was executed and Qingda received fifteen years in prison. Nevertheless, until a significant overhaul in the laws occurs, pedestrians in China will not be safe and vigilante justice will remain one of the most troubling, yet satisfying ways of punishing drivers who intentionally try to kill pedestrians.