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China's tightened traffic rules stir debate

By Jaime A. FlorCruz and CY Xu, CNN
updated 3:04 AM EST, Tue January 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many drivers cry foul over harsher penalties for violators of traffic rules
  • Penalties are heavier for drunken driving, running red and yellow lights
  • To get back suspended license, driver has to take class, take a test
  • Beijing: New rules will be carried out strictly, even without countdown screens

Beijing, China (CNN) -- Driving in China is dangerous in no small part because many drivers tend to ignore traffic rules.

In 2011, China recorded more than 2 million road accidents, which led to more than 62,000 deaths, according to China's transport ministry.

Despite steps to punish violators with harsher penalties, many drivers are crying foul.

Read more: Holiday starts in gridlock for Chinese travelers

The revised rules took effect nationwide on Tuesday, the start of the new year.

They include heavier penalties for drunken driving, talking on the phone while driving, as well as for running red and yellow lights.

Each violation incurs the deduction of points from a driver's license, and the deduction of 12 points results in the suspension of a driver's license.

To get it back, the driver must undergo a seven-day class of traffic rules and take a test.

Many drivers thumb down the tougher rules, especially the one that considers a yellow traffic light the same as a red light. Running through them twice within a year can now result in the suspension of a license.

"I'm among the first victims of the new rule," wrote netizen @SunYiXuan on Chinese microblogging website Sina Weibo, "I hit the car before me this morning when the driver slammed on the brake when the light turned yellow. Slow down when you're 1 km away from the traffic lights. Good luck my friends."

Unlike in some cities, Beijing has not installed traffic lights with numerical countdowns before they change, making it difficult for drivers to slow down or stop in time.

"If yellow light equals red light, we don't even need green lights any more. On and off of one light can do the work," @YuJianShouQing posted.

A poll on Weibo shows 13,000 users, or 84%, of netizens who responded considered the new rule as "unacceptable".

Beijing's traffic management bureau says the new regulations will be carried out strictly, even if countdown screens are not installed.

According to local newspapers, the first traffic ticket for running a yellow light was issued Tuesday in Chengdu, a city in southwest China. Other cities like Shenzhen do not plan to punish drivers who run yellow lights -- for now.

Still, a Chinese official from the Public Security Ministry's traffic control bureau said road accidents in five major cities -- Beijing, Tianjin, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Jinan -- have decreased by 9% to 30% since the new rules took effect.

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