Jaywalking fines necessary to break unsafe habits

Wang Yong
The time for warnings is over. Illegal road crossings put everyone's safety at risk, yet some continue to gamble with reckless behavior.
Wang Yong

Shanghai punished more than 900 pedestrians on Monday who crossed roads either against red lights or via undesignated “shortcuts” outside of marked zebra crossings.

At first glance, it may seem surprising that so many jaywalkers turned up despite earlier warnings. Local police authorities had made it clear that, from Monday onward, anyone caught jaywalking would be immediately issued a fine. But on second thought, it’s not that surprising. Old habits die hard. Many miscreants knew it was unlawful to jaywalk, but did so anyway, ready to gamble on not getting caught.

When police stopped one woman for jaywalking on a road in the Pudong New Area on Monday, she cooperated, smiling all the while. Asked whether she knew of the new rule, she said she did, but could not resist the temptation of a “shortcut” when chance presented itself. Jiefang Daily reported yesterday that police had dealt with more than 20 such cases on the same road within two hours.

In other areas of the city, those who were caught were duly fined, although some sought to defend themselves by citing an old regulation that went into effect about three years ago. At that time, a jaywalker caught for the first time would only be educated, typically with an oral reprimand. If caught a second time, the offender would be given a warning; only when caught a third time would punishment be meted out. 

This regulation, however, was rendered obsolete on Monday. People were informed about the new rule via a well-publicized press conference last week. Even though some pedestrians might have missed the news, resolute law enforcement on the spot will help cultivate desired crossing etiquette.

In many cases of jaywalking on Monday, a “shortcut” was no more than 100 meters away from a painted crosswalk. If a designated crosswalk is more than 1,000 meters from where you hope to cross the road, you might have a case for suggesting that more crosswalks be added. But, judging from what police found on Monday, a “detour” to a legally drawn crosswalk was, in most cases, a matter of a few minutes.

Of course, roads would be ours to cross if they were only for pedestrians. But as cars and motorbikes come and go, jaywalking necessarily puts everyone’s life in jeopardy. On roads where mixed traffic impacts drivers and pedestrians alike, we’d better all pause to give life a few seconds’ thought: What’s the use of “efficiency” if lives are lost in a traffic accident?

Many of us know that speed sometimes spoils our plans. But knowing this by heart is not enough. More often than not we see ourselves and others seeking speed at the expense of safety in our daily lives. As such, an effective external check on our behavior is a necessary “inconvenience” to ensure orderly behavior which benefits everyone.

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