China drivers face tougher tests to reduce deaths


BEIJING, Feb 25 (Reuters) - China is rallying to reduce its grim roadway death toll -- the price of poor driving and exploding car demand -- by putting new drivers through tougher training, the China Daily said on Friday.

The Ministry of Communications ordered driving schools to increase training hours and make tests harder before granting licenses, the newspaper said.

China's roads are the deadliest in the world, largely a result of dangerous drivers who commonly switch lanes without looking or signalling, ignore traffic lights, speed down the wrong side of the road or even throw their vehicles into reverse when they have missed a highway exit.

"Poor safety awareness and inadequate knowledge about traffic safety for some drivers have become key problems to be addressed to reduce accidents," Zhang Jianfei, director of the Ministry of Communications highways department, was quoted as saying.

Almost 107,000 people were killed in road accidents in China last year, up around two percent from 2003, the report said.

World Health Organisation estimates are much higher, with more than 600 people killed and 45,000 injured on China's roads every day.

"Around 89.8 percent of the accidents were the drivers' faults," Zhang said.

The country's booming economy has translated into millions more people buying and driving their own cars.

More than 2 million new cars were sold in 2004, up 15 percent year-on-year, after sales almost doubled in 2003.

"By the end of last year, China boasted about 30 million vehicles, among which the proportion of private cars exceeded 50 percent," China Daily said.



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