The front page of the Sanxiang Metropolis Daily from Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, today unloads on the city’s unruly drivers. The front page is festooned with a line of images of orderly straight lines of traffic in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shenzhen, contrasted with a line of images of a muddled rabble of cars moving every which way in Changsha. One of these images even shows a stationary car in the middle of a highway with the driver on foot next to the car, under the words “this is also Changsha”.
The images are some of the evidence compiled yesterday by the newspaper in a multi-region fact-finding operation. The object of the operation was to establish which of the cities has the most unruly drivers, i.e. the ones worst at driving patiently in orderly lines. The newspaper conducted an online survey in Changsha before sending a journalist driving around the city to observe first-hand the state of its driving, and what he found wasn’t pretty. It then organized journalists in the other cities mentioned above (plus Guangzhou) to do some observing of the traffic in their own cities and take some pictures of what they saw.
As the front page so graphically illustrates, Changsha’s drivers are the worst of the lot. Hence the Sanxiang Metropolis Daily today does some soul-searching for its readers. What to do about the city’s muddled roads? What the newspaper first proceeds to do today is guilt-trip its readers in Changsha about the bad driving in the city, which is so uncivilized. It then informs them of a rather odd campaign launched in the city to inspire “new citizens” to become model drivers. As a single butterfly can shake its wings and cause a storm, it urges, so the drivers of Changsha must drive orderly and thereby shake their wings and ignite a civilized storm of orderly driving. Anyone who fails to fall for this passionate rhetoric is reminded that there are now high definition cameras on the streets of the city, and they will record every instance of uncivilized driving.
“You have more cars than we do, your roads are narrower, yet why does your traffic move faster than ours?”
The Sanxiang Metropolis Daily just can’t understand why Changsha’s driving has to be so bad, especially in comparison with the other larger cities. And everyone in Changsha agrees that its very bad. The newspaper cites a survey carried out on a Changsha website yesterday asking respondents about their driving habits. Shockingly, the newspaper relates, of the 414 respondents, more than 60% said they have previously disobeyed rules for driving orderly in straight lanes, but more than 70% said that they were forced to do so. The respondents blamed new and inexperienced drivers who entered intersections too slowly, leaving other drivers no choice but to swerve around them. Additionally the questionnaire revealed two common further reasons for the bad driving:
- Some drivers force others aside, racing forward and crowding into every gap, so drivers can’t just wait patiently in their lanes.
- Many roads in Changsha are filled with construction sites, and if you don’t race ahead you’ll just languish in traffic jams.
So the common perception seems to be that if you don’t rush forward and push into every single gap in front of you, you’ll be stuck in endless traffic jams. This essentially lawless conception of driving is wreaking havoc on Changsha’s roads. The newspaper relates statistics provided by an employee of a local insurance company. Over a period of six years, the employee found that his company processed around 20 accidents every day, and on average 60% of these accidents are caused by drivers driving recklessly across lanes. According to the traffic police, in the three months of the year to date, on average around 500 drivers a day were penalized for this offence in Changsha.
The fact-finding operation
To establish for itself the state of driving in Changsha, the Sanxiang Metropolis Daily yesterday sent one of its journalists out in a car with a mission to record every instance of bad driving. What the journalist found was rather depressing, because only five minutes in he reported the following:
8:55 – Arrived at Mayuanling (麻园岭), small car ahead with number plate 湘E02945 constantly changing lanes from the right side of a three-lane highway all the way to the left.
Three minutes later, he reported again: small car with license plate 湘A00305 “continuously changing lanes and inserting itself into the fast lane”. And so on it went all day, “continuously changing lanes”, “racing to fill a gap”, “cut off by another vehicle”, etc.
On the same day, the newspaper requested journalists in five other cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hangzhou, to go out on the roads in their respective cities and observe to what extent drivers drove orderly and obeyed the rules. The result of all this was graphically illustrated on the front page: nice orderly lines of cars in all the other cities, chaos in Changsha.
Be like butterflies and shake your wings
With the evidence thus so overwhelming, the newspaper proceeds to lay out the full moral implications of this sorry state of affairs in Changsha. Under the heading “Who will dare take up this challenge?,” the newspaper tells of a new campaign set up by the transport section of the local public security bureau called “Civilized City, Orderly Driving” (文明城市,有序行车). The campaign is related to the readers with the slightly odd use of a butterfly metaphor. After asking readers to “Take hold of this beautiful butterfly,” the newspaper lays out the following challenge:
If you drive a car and you are willing to abide by the motto “I am a new citizen, I drive orderly”, you should phone the number below and declare yourself a model driver, and we’ll award you with a “beautiful” car allowance.
Yet lest you think this is going to be easy:
Anyone taking up the challenge will have their every move on the roads carefully monitored by everyone, there will be countless eyes observing your uncivilized driving, which will be revealed by [new high definition] cameras on the road.
But don’t be discouraged, because to inspire readers to take up this daunting challenge, the newspaper finishes with a poetic appeal for drivers to think of a single butterfly which, shaking its little wings in the Pacific Ocean can kickstart a massive storm. “We also have a butterfly,” it says, “which also desires to shake its wings and ignite a ‘storm’ of orderly and civilized driving in Changsha”.
With the passion and the poetic metaphors flowing, the newspaper reminds its readers that just a momentary slip of a wrong decision can have a fatal impact on Changsha. The phrase “I am a new citizen, I drive orderly” is not just a slogan, its a challenge:
Your actions are small seeds that will germinate, form branches and grow big. All of you are brave pioneers…We along with you look forward to this “butterfly shaking its wings” effect.
Be inspired Changsha – shake your wings and rain down fire and brimstone in a righteous storm of civilized driving.