25. March 2012

Sheepish: No Mercy for Pedestrians in China

Traffic in China follows other rules than in Germany. Also the assortment of vehicles in China is much more diverse; featuring trucks, buses, taxis, private cars, electric scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, three-wheeled cars and pedestrians all sharing the same space.

The big cities like Shanghai or Beijing are covered by roads with many lanes. While the constant collective jostling and honking suggests otherwise, when watching traffic in China, one seldom takes notice of any aggressive outbursts or emotionally motivated manoeuvres of any participants. The traffic flows peacefully.

Yet, when crossing the South Avenue in Taiyuan – a ten-lane road with dense traffic – at a spot that was a supposed-to-be crossing for pedestrians, I was reminded of the online game Sheepish. In this game, one needs to safely move sheep over a road with altogether five lanes. The sheep can be navigated forward, backward and sideways using the arrows keys. Generously, one is allowed to have three sheeps overrun by a vehicle before the game is over.

In real life, my situation differed from Sheepish in at least four aspects. First, I was crossing a ten-lane road. Second, I have only one life to spend before the game is over. Third, I had no intentions whatsoever to cross streets until being game-over. Fourth, being a sheep on a real road is not nearly as fun.

While I feel generally reluctant to complain about rules and habits in other countries than my own, I rarely felt more naked then when standing between the lanes of a road with cars rushing and honking both behind me and in front of my tiptoes.

Apart from my highly subjective impression, what might the numbers of deaths in daily traffic tell us? A report by the World Health Organization makes the tragic statement that “road traffic injuries are the leading
cause of death for persons aged 15–44 years”. The report says that “the road traffic fatality rate was 15.3 (per 100 000 population)
in 2005”, which means that around 197.600 people died in China due to collisions on the road. Pedestrians make up a quarter of the deaths.

Excuse my sarcastic choice of words; yet I definitely recommend visitors in China to watch out for vehicles from all directions, to watch out for vehicles crossing red lights at any time and consider jump and run tactics as common life-guarding activities.

I hope to see a decrease in death tolls in the coming years. Until then, prepare by playing Sheepish.