In China’s densely populated cities, it’s not uncommon to see cars driving on the wrong side of the street, barrelling down bike lanes or even parked on the sidewalks. In the last two decades, as the number of motorists has grown astronomically, Chinese roads have become a Wild West of traffic violations. In 2011, nearly 70,000 people were killed in traffic accidents, and tens of thousands more were injured. But last month, traffic wardens began fining some of China’s most prevalent lawbreakers: pedestrians.
While some have lauded the government for enforcing any traffic laws at all—speed limits and red lights are routinely ignored—critics say targeting pedestrians is ineffective and unfair.
“Chinese drivers don’t stop at traffic lights, so either you jaywalk or you don’t cross the street,” says Tyler Ehler, a Canadian student living in Nanjing. The problem, says Ehler, is the driving class has simply grown too large, too fast—“teenagers are learning to drive at the same time as their parents.” A country full of new drivers, he says, is bound to have its share of traffic accidents.
While some dismiss traffic accidents as mere growing pains, others question whether China’s thousands of road fatalities are an inevitable consequence of its rise.