China's crazy hit-to-kill drivers

September 08, 2015 10:22
Mainland drivers who hit and kill do so because they feel killing is far more economical than paying for lifetime care for a disabled survivor.

The moral abyss in Chinese society is getting more shocking as reports surface regularly that motorists in the country are intentionally killing the pedestrians they hit.

You didn't misread that.

But just so there’s no confusion: when a driver in China accidentally hits a pedestrian, they will often run over the victim a few more times to ensure they are dead.

Shocking? Definitely.

Horrific? Absolutely.

Too crazy to be true? Sadly, no.

In fact, it's so common that the Chinese language even has an adage for the phenomenon: “It is better to hit to kill than to hit and injure."

According to media reports, security cameras have regularly revealed cars stopping after a collision and then deliberately reversing to crush whoever they have hit, whether it’s an innocent grandmother or a toddler.

In 2008, local news footage revealed that a driver named Zhao Xiao Cheng had run over a 64-year-old woman in Taizhou, Zhejiang province. He then rolled his Volkswagen Passat back and forth over the elderly pedestrian five times, grinding the grandmother into the pavement.

In a video from 2010, a BMW driver hits a three-year-old boy during the morning rush hour in Xinyi, Jiangsu province. He then hops out of the car and guides it back over the child three times before running over the boy one last time as he drives away.

In January, a woman was caught on video repeatedly driving over an elderly man who had fallen in the snow and in May, a truck driver was filmed running over a young boy four times.

This April, Slate reports, a BMW knocked down a two-year-old girl and drove over her head at a fruit market in Foshan in Guangdong province.

When the girl’s grandmother shouted, “Stop! You’ve hit a child!” the unlicensed driver backed up over the girl and forward again, crushing the girl for the third time.

When she finally got out from the BMW, the unlicensed driver immediately offered the horrified family a deal: "Don’t say that I was driving the car," she said. "Say it was my husband. We can give you money."

Most people agree that the hit-to-kill phenomenon stems at least in part from perverse laws on victim compensation, said Geoffrey Sant, an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School and author of the Slate article.

In China the compensation for killing a victim in a traffic accident is relatively small—amounts typically range from US$30,000 to US$50,000—and once payment is made, the matter is over, said Sant.

By contrast, paying for lifetime care for a disabled survivor can run into the millions. The Chinese press recently described how one disabled man received about US$400,000 for the first 23 years of his care.

Drivers who decide to hit-and-kill do so because killing is far more economical.

Indeed, Zhao Xiao Cheng—the man caught on a security camera video driving over a grandmother five times—ended up paying only about US$70,000 in compensation.

Sant says drivers are willing to kill not only because it is cheaper, but also because they expect to escape murder charges.

In the days before video cameras became widespread, it was rare to have evidence that a driver hit the victim twice.

Even in today’s age of cellphone cameras, drivers seem confident that they can either bribe local officials or hire a lawyer to evade murder charges, he said.

Every year, at least 200,000 people die as a result of road accidents in China, the World Health Organization said in May.

Part of the reason is that China’s drivers are among the worst in the world—no, not because of some genetic predisposition, you racist—but because they are inexperienced.

More than 23 million new cars, trucks and buses—over 63,000 a day—were sold last year, with passenger cars accounting for the biggest chunk of those sales.

Unfortunately, most of those new car buyers were also first-time drivers.

Most have a driver’s license, the result of passing a written exam, a behind-the-wheel driving test and watching a video designed to scare common sense into new drivers, said the Los Angeles Times.

(The video is a disturbing 30-minute compilation of gruesome footage showing crushed cyclists, pedestrians flung into the air like rag dolls, charred human remains and victims' families grieving hysterically.)

But even with a license and driver ed, many drivers soon abandon any good habits they've learned because traffic rules are rarely enforced.

China certainly has some safety regulations in place, noted The Economist.

Drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts, for example, and mobile phones can only be used hands-free when driving.

Unfortunately these laws are entirely ignored.

Many pedestrians still behave as if the auto revolution in China never happened—wandering aimlessly into crosswalks, darting across eight-lane highways and loitering in traffic medians, the LA Times noted.

Still, that’s no excuse for the perversity of hit-to-kill drivers.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business