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Penalties seek to curb deaths from crashes involving large vehicles

Bus drivers and truckers found under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be banned from the roads for life, according to a series of tough new measures to improve road safety.

The Ministry of Public Security's amended regulations on driving licenses increase the penalties for motorists who run red lights, as well as authorities who issue licenses to new drivers who cause serious accidents.

"The regulations significantly strengthen the management of people who drive large or mid-sized passenger vehicles and trucks," Li Jiangping, deputy director of traffic control for the ministry, said on Tuesday.

The measures will take effect on Jan 1.

According to the ministry, between 2009 and 2011, coaches or trucks were involved in 70 percent of all accidents that resulted in the deaths of 10 people or more.

The most recent tragedy occurred on Sunday, when a bus collided with a car and another bus before rolling into a ditch beside the Qingdao-Yinchuan Expressway, close to Zibo, in Shandong province. Fourteen people were killed and more than 40 others were injured.

To avoid accidents, the regulations state any coach driver or trucker who causes a fatal crash, or is caught driving drunk, will receive a lifetime ban.

The stricter rules also take a zero-tolerance attitude toward drivers who use illegal narcotics, with users risking an automatic suspension of their license if they are caught.

People receiving compulsory treatment for a drug addiction, or have done so within the previous three years, will also be barred from applying or holding a driving permit.

Newly qualified drivers, which means those who do not have three years' experience, will from Jan 1 need to be accompanied by someone who does when traveling on the highways. The amended regulations also hold license-issuing authorities accountable in the event of an accident.

"If a new driver causes a fatal traffic accident, the transport authority (that issued the license) will be held responsible," Li said.

According to the ministry, the number of drivers in China has increased by more than 20 million year-on-year, while drivers with less than a year's experience are involved in a high proportion of collisions.

The amendment has also increased the point penalties for serious violations, including speeding, overloading, transporting dangerous goods, driving while tired, and blocking or defacing number plates.

The use of forged or altered school bus signs, or having school buses overloaded by more than 20 percent of seat capacity, now warrant 12 points on a driver's license.

Coach drivers or truckers who speed, or overload vehicles by more than 20 percent of their capacity on a highway or 50 percent on other road, will also receive 12 points.

The punishment for motorists who fail to hang number plates on their vehicles, or block or deface them, will rise from six to 12 points. Drivers who run red lights will receive six points, up from three.

A driver can receive a maximum of 12 penalty points before he or she automatically loses his or her license. In most cases, the driver will be required to receive a week of driving lessons before being made to go through an exam. However, in serious cases, such as drunken driving, a motorist will lose his or her permit for five years.

"I agree with enhancing the management of large coaches and trucks because they account for most fatal accidents," said Dai Peng, director of the criminal investigation department at Chinese People's Public Security University. "But I also expect other measures will be taken, relating to the management of driving school students, law enforcement for road emergencies, and increased investment for technology to monitor and collect evidence."

However, some drivers raised doubts over how the revised regulations will be implemented.

"I question increasing the penalty points for illegal behavior, such as running red lights, since the points will not be deducted at scene. They will be added when the vehicle receives its (annual) inspection," said Zhao Lijie, a Beijing motorist. "Will it be fair and will traffic police obtain reasonable evidence?"

Li Jie, a bus conductor in the capital, fears there could be a problem getting transportation authorities to take responsibility for new drivers.

"I'm worried they (officials who issue licenses) will set more obstacles for exam-takers and fail them on purpose," she added.


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