It's nice to see that the government in Beijing recognises that there are problems on the roads and that these are, at least in part, caused by the army.
The root cause of this particular problem are the white number plates with red lettering issued to the army, armed police and so on, that are immediately distinguishable to the outside world as 'someone you don't want to mess with'. So much so, that people can break whatever traffic laws they feel like and pretty much expect to get away with it. That's not to say the laws don't apply to them already - they do. What's lacking is the ability to effectively police violators who might be sufficiently powerful and well connected to end a policeman's career there and then.
Not surprisingly there are a number of black saloon cars with blacked out windows and fake army licence plates out on the roads - after all, if the army guys can break traffic laws and face little chance of being stopped, what are the chances of a police officer stopping you to check the validity of those plates.
Whilst it's good to see the 2008 Olympics having a positive effect, the Beijing announcement doesn't look like a particularly serious attempt to clear up abusers - for one thing, they've only targeted the announcement on the Beijing area.
One could suggest a simpler solution - replace all of the white army plates with the standard blue ones then we're all on an equal footing. Then again, there are so many things about traffic laws that have been implemented so that they don't make sense:
- Purpose-built trucks and vans aren't allowed in city centres so all parcel delivery companies, etc. have to use passenger minibuses to deliver packages. Surely less efficient meaning more trucks on the road.
- Until recently (sensibly now repealed) vehicles with an engine capacity below 1300cc were banned from Shanghai's elevated roads as part of a pollution control measure.
- People can turn right on a red light (as per the USA) with the notable difference that in the US a red must be treated the same as a STOP sign - here people just fly round corners - often whilst pedestrians also have a green light
- The rule still stands that if you're in front, you've got the right of way. This means that all drivers blatantly ignore everything that is behind the drivers seat or could be seen in mirrors and leads to some horrific crashes.
- The worst polluters on the roads in city centres - buses - seem to have little if any control on emissions but motorbikes have been banned - again, citing pollution.
- Hangzhou, and other Chinese cities, have recently banned bicycle rickshaws - a pollution free form of transport that has only recently been introduced in modern cities like London
Time for an integrated transport policy rather than a series of seemingly individual and in many cases, knee-jerk policies?