Monday, July 14, 2008

The seat-belt story

From inside JinMao Tower, a picture she took
Ask my friend who was recently back from China what was her most remembered impression about China. She told me it was the confusion of identities, sometimes people took her as an American, other times people took her as a Chinese.

She told of the seat-belt story that She was unexpectedly pinned down to be American. It was in Nanking. She fastened her seat-belt as soon as she got on a taxi without even thinking much. Little would she expect that it would trigger taxi drivers long talk about all things Chinese and American. As it turned out, she was the first passenger who fastened seat-belt that taxi driver ever carried, although the "fasten your seat-belt" sign was preen on the glove box. The taxi driver went on to have a full lecture on how Chinese were too smart for their own good and never respects little rules. (China has now the most moto accidents in the world.) When my friend indicated she was Chinese also, he insisted that She was American, not Chinese.

This reminds me of a story told on James Fallow's blog. Roughly, Bus drivers in China were hit by an extra cut on highway fees because highway fare collectors were not well paid, they in turn changed the route to detour on crappy roads and waited to take on extra passengers, to make their ends meet. It seemed nobody was seriously enforcing the existing rules and those practices are implicitly understood. And nobody was willing to face to his own responsibilities first. The result was very unefficeint outcomes and wasting of time. Most people who had taken long-distance small buses could tell the same experience.

So maybe small changes will come, since that taxi driver recognized fastening seat-belt as responsible thing to do, and even admirable in his eyes.

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  1. Supposedly, the traffic law only requires the driver to fasten the seat belt. Of course, I've never seen any traffic laws enforced.

    By enforcing minor traffic offenses with fines, I bet the gov't could save a ton of money on road maintenance and police payroll.

  2. Thanks Mat for pointing that out. I always thought it was a front-row back-row thing about safety-belts.

    And I agree, enforcing minor rules can go a long way in establishing order.

    I've heard also stories that thefts steal license plates, and actually public contact numbers for owners to redeem them. Imagine how many license reapplication man-hours can be saves by just going after the money collecting thefts! I'm wondering if that's the way they keep everybody at work, including license issuing officers. :P