Road kill

Canadian film turns spotlight on disturbing traffic accidents


If the Chinese-Canadian film Old Stone is ever released in China it will be interesting to see how audiences react.

It follows the story of Lao Shi, an Anhui taxi driver who accidentally runs over a motorcyclist.

Defying the advice of bystanders, he takes the man to hospital and pays for his surgery in the belief he will be reimbursed.

But the patient falls into a coma and Lao Shi is told he will have to pay for the man’s care indefinitely.

“To be honest it would be much easier if he had just died at the scene,” his lawyer says.

The film is particularly pertinent in the wake of a horrific traffic incident in Henan in which a woman was run over by two different drivers because no one came to her aid the first time she was hit.

Known as the bystander effect, the theory is that people don’t want to help because they fear being accused of causing the accident.

Muddying the waters, there are also cases of peng ci or “hitting porcelain” in which people in China throw themselves in front of cars and feign injury to extract compensation from drivers.

A recent video filmed on the dashcam of a public bus shows one such attempt. The driver breaks, avoiding hitting the prone man. The scamster then gets up off the road and swears at him.

Old Stone’s director – Chinese Canadian Jonny Ma – was prompted to make the film when he heard the story of a truck driver who had driven over someone twice. The first time was an accident; the second time was a deliberate attempt to kill the victim so the truck driver wouldn’t have to pay medical bills.

Such stories are not uncommon in China and they hang on the belief that killing someone in a road accident entails a one-off penalty but that long term medical care is much more expensive.

A quick search on video sharing websites bring up clips which appear to support these stories. When such cases have gone to court the drivers then claim they thought they were running over rubbish bags and they are typically given about two years in jail.

The driver in Old Stone – which has proven popular at arty international film festivals – at first refuses to think this way because he believes the truth will prevail (the accident has been caused by a drunken passenger who grabs the wheel). But the passenger refuses to admit responsibility and the driver’s family starts to turn against him. Eventually Lao Shi loses faith. In a key scene a woman collapses on the street and people do nothing. And this time he is not inclined to help.

“To me, the Old Stone story is my way of expressing what I had felt for a long time: that, in our society, it is harder and harder for people to do good deeds,” says the director, who shot the film on location in Anhui.

Meanwhile, the media have been covering the case in Henan in which no one came to the victim’s aid, with both of the drivers appearing in court.

The incident, which took place in April, struck a chord with the public because it stirred memories of the 2011 case of Wang Yue – a toddler who was run over multiple times (see WiC127).

Clips of the hit and run in Henan show a woman walking halfway across a zebra crossing when a taxi knocks her over. The vehicle doesn’t stop and the woman is left lying in the middle of the road.  Pedestrians can see her but when the traffic clears, they cross and do nothing. Some cars drive round the woman and eventually an SUV drives over her at high speed (she later died in hospital).

The incident provoked an outpouring of anger with many asking what is wrong with Chinese society.

“Every person on that street is a murderer,” one weibo user accused.

Sections of the state media tried to counter the negative mood by posting clips of strangers helping others. One showed two young women helping an elderly man who had skidded off his bike. Another showed a driver blocking other drivers from coming past while an old lady crossed the road.

In Beijing, traffic police have also been out in force making sure that drivers stop at zebra crossings, while Xinhua has reported that offenders will be fined Rmb220 and get three demerit points on their licences if they do not give way.

Truth be told, it hardly sounds like much of a penalty…

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