Monday, 14 September 2015

Why you should avoid getting hit by a car in China

OK, so it's probably not a good idea to let yourself get hit by a car anywhere. But you would be especially ill-advised to do so in China, at least according to this report in Slate last week:
It seems like a crazy urban legend: In China, drivers who have injured pedestrians will sometimes then try to kill them. And yet not only is it true, it’s fairly common; security cameras have regularly captured drivers driving back and forth on top of victims to make sure that they are dead. The Chinese language even has an adage for the phenomenon: “It is better to hit to kill than to hit and injure.”
What is going on? It turns out that the well-meaning government has rules in place to compensate the victims of an accident. Sounds fair, right? However, as the Slate article explains:
In China the compensation for killing a victim in a traffic accident is relatively small — amounts typically range from $30,000 to $50,000 — and once payment is made, the matter is over. By contrast, paying for lifetime care for a disabled survivor can run into the millions.
And so, the cost of killing a traffic accident victim is probably much less than the cost of injuring them, even when you consider the risk of prison:
In each of these cases, despite video and photographs showing that the driver hit the victim a second, and often even a third, fourth, and fifth time, the drivers ended up paying the same or less in compensation and jail time than they would have if they had merely injured the victim...
And last month the unlicensed woman who had killed the 2-year-old in the fruit market with her BMW—and then offered to bribe the family—was brought to court. She claimed the killing was an accident. Prosecutors accepted her assertion, and recommended that the court reduce her sentence to two to four years in prison.
A sentence of 2-4 years for deliberately killing a child is an incomprehensibly light punishment (this woman ran over the child not once, but three times to ensure she was dead). Weak punishment and high costs of injury compensation in turn leads to the perverse outcome of some drivers having a preference for killing, rather than injuring, pedestrians in accidents. Rational (and quasi-rational) drivers will seek to lower their costs, and if avoiding the monetary cost is very important to them (relative to the increased moral cost), then driving back over the pedestrian they just hit with their car to ensure they are dead is a preferred choice:

The Chinese laws also have other perverse consequences. Strangers may be reluctant to help people who have been injured, lest they be accused of causing the injury (see this article as one example - this point was also made in Levitt and Dubner's book Think Like a Freak, which I reviewed here). The risk of being found to have caused the injury due to the whims (or corruption) of a judge is enough to dissuade Chinese good samaritans from helping their neighbours.

All of which means that you should make doubly sure you look left and right before crossing that Chinese road.

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