New Regulations for Foreign Drivers in China

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Sept. 1 – The Ministry of Public Security will implement new regulations beginning January 1, 2009 allowing foreign drivers to be under the same jurisdiction as local Chinese drivers.

This means that local police will have the right to detain and incarcerate foreigners suspected of being responsible for road accidents until their cases are closed. This is in compliance with national legislation that prohibits foreigners from leaving the country while involved with criminal or civil cases.

In addition, the new law will allow guilty drivers to be imprisoned for up to three years and up to seven years for those who flee the scene of a fatal accident.

Assets and bank accounts of defendants may also be frozen upon request by the family of the victim ahead of any civil suits. This is to ensure that court ordered compensation may be met. Typical compensation payments include the cost of medical treatment, loss of earnings and damages for pain and suffering, in addition to a police fine. Getting off entirely is not possible because the police will usually allocate a percentage of the blame in all road accident cases.

Foreign nationals are allowed to drive on the mainland using a valid Chinese license or a temporary international license. However, the practice of driving without a license is still prevalent among foreigners in China especially for those who own motorcycles.

“We’ve had to deal with foreigners incarcerated already following road accidents,” says Alberto Vettoretti, managing partner for Dezan Shira & Associates in China. ” While the pleasure of driving a motorbike or car out and about in China is obvious, if you are unlicensed, it’s just not worth the risk.”

Even if the accident was their fault, says Vettoretti, the blame will tend to fall on the foreign driver in any event. “We’ve also seen cases of deliberate accidents being manufactured against foreigners just to obtain quick compensation payments from them.”