Watching traffic deaths at teatime – Beijing




The traffic volume in Beijing is appalling, and the quality of drivers even worse. A graphic new show called “Traffic Light” aims to educate road users that they’re not invincible.

The BTV show brutally depicts the most grisly traffic accidents, replaying them in slow motion, and again in close up. Throughout this, police officers give play-by-play commentary with slide-shows and computer graphics, like a nasty version of Sky Sports half-time Rugby analysis.


Not these computer graphics, but not far off...

Aired four times a day, including a breakfast and tea-time edition, the show is intended to teach Beijing’s 4.8 million drivers that it would help if they followed the rules of the road, or at least kept one eye on where they’re going.

The show is very graphic – pedestrians are hit by taxis, cyclists go under the wheels of buses and the host sits grinning throughout. Photos of the aftermath are all too common, and linger on grieving children kneeling round the crushed remains of their parents, or close-ups of the worst injuries.

According to the government, almost 70,000 people died in more than 265,000 road accidents in China in 2009 – around 190 fatalities a day. Police claim this is a huge reduction from 99,000 deaths in 2005, but the World Health Organisation estimates that the real figures for last year are nearly double those released by the authorities.

Here’s a full episode of Traffic Light. It’s deeply unpleasant. People get killed and maimed in close-up and the camera doesn’t pull away at the last minute, so don’t watch if you’ve got a weak stomach. If you do decide to watch it, note the reaction of passing pedestrians – it’s more annoyance at being held up than horror at what has just happened:

Chinese Tricycle

Chinese Tricycle

On the way back from the supermarket today I saw a collision between a cement mixer truck and a small, home-made tricycle. The remains of the tricycle were scattered across the junction, and the drivers head still lodged under the rear wheels of the truck. Not having much to offer in the way of assistance I kept out of the way, but rather than call an ambulance most passers by were using their phones to snap photos.

Traffic here is dangerous, whether you’re a pedestrian, or wrapped up in a car. It seems that with the boom in wealth and the huge migration from the country, people who haven’t passed a driving test and are more used to tractors in empty fields are now cluelessly driving SUVs down pedestrian only pavements. At the same time, pedestrians don’t look where they’re going, or walk blithely into traffic whilst wearing headphones.

Burning Minivan

Hot Wheels

To be fair, today’s incident was the first fatal accident I’ve seen, but bumps and scrapes are all too common for drivers, and in some cases even worse. We saw this burning van on the way back from Cuandixia. The driver had escaped but the police were helpless to extingush the flames




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10 Responses to Watching traffic deaths at teatime – Beijing

  1. Michael A. Robson May 18, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    How’s the Jaywalking scene in Beijing? I swear the previous Generation here in Shanghai still thinks red means walk/go (a relic from the Mao era).

    • steve May 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      Pedestrians and cyclists here happily disregard traffic lights, but are nimble enough to avoid getting hit. The tricycles are less mobile and seem to take the brunt of the collisions

  2. Aimee June 2, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Your story of the cement mixer is chillingly similar to what some colleagues and I saw a few weeks ago a few blocks from my office but it was a young woman on a pushbike. We must have arrived just moments after it had happened and called the police/ambulance but were glad to note they were already on the way. Bystanders as you say were busy snapping away with mobile phones. All around this area it is big highways where trucks and cars bomb around and cut corners and pedestrians/cyclists are equally bad. No-one pays any attention to the lights or road signs. It’s a horrible state of affairs and very hard to see how it is going to improve. Playing grisly snuff movies is not the way – they should be cracking down on this:

    • steve June 2, 2011 at 11:29 am #

      That’s the first I’d heard of the driving test bribes – shocking, but it would explain a lot of the driving here.

  3. Locksley McPherson Jnr September 5, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    Oh no oh no oh no :-o !!!!! I watched that video without heeding that warning! That is a horrific close-up look at the reality of traffic in Beijing!! Woah. Very informative post, but I think next time I shall pay more attention to the warnings :-)

    • steve September 5, 2011 at 10:23 am #

      It’s definitely unpleasant, and it’s on TV every morning and evening!


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