Wei Lan Jian was just four when his father suffered a car accident. He had been driving on an icy road when his car skidded and careened into a lamp post.

“He had a big cut on his forehead and was in hospital for two days,’’ says Wei, from Shulan, a small town in Jilin Province in northeast China.

Twenty years later, memories of that accident still haunt him. No more so than at Chinese new year, where Wei’s 3,000 km-journey from Shenzhen, where he works in southern China, to his family home in Jilin begins with a five-hour flight to meet his father at Changchun airport.

Together the pair then drive for three hours, across icy roads on a journey that can see temperatures at the start of each year drop to between -20 and -35° Celsius.

“My father is very stoic about driving under these harsh winter conditions. Most people in Jilin are. But I am not,’’ he says.

Millions of Chinese people travel home by road for the Spring Festival
Millions of Chinese people travel home by road for the Spring Festival

Reuniting families

Wei is one of millions of Chinese people that travel home for the Spring Festival to reunite with their families. The period, called chunyun (“Spring travel’’), starts 15 days before the festival and lasts for around 40 days. For many it's the only chance they get to visit their families all year.

Train stations and bus terminals are packed and roads are jammed.

But traffic accidents are common. Of the 2.98 billion journeys expected to take place during this period, an estimated 2.48 billion will take place by road, according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission.

China now has 310 million motor vehicles – more than any other country in the world. With more new and inexperienced drivers, traffic casualties are commonplace.

According to studies conducted by China’s Ministry of Transport and Beijing’s Beihang University’s School of Transportation Science and Engineering, most of the country’s road accidents occur in August. But many also occur in February and March, during chunyun.

Building awareness

That is why Shell China, the country’s largest global operator of retail stations, has started a road safety awareness campaign. Weary drivers will be able to rest in special rooms, enjoy a hot drink and even walk away with so-called “bags of luck,” filled with snacks and drinks.

The campaign, during the Chunyun period, runs across all 1,350 forecourts in three municipalities, nine provinces as well as the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions.

Road safety tips from Shell will be broadcast on radio as well as on Wechat, China’s messaging service. Motorists will also be encouraged to share their own stories.

Rebecca Chan, Vice President of Shell China Retail, says: “The Spring Festival is a happy time of year when families are reunited. But the journeys home can sometimes be challenging.

“We wanted to give drivers some joy and respite on their route but, at the same time, highlight the importance of road safety.’’

Shell V-power station in Tianjin, China
A Shell V-power station in Tianjin, China

Tackling the issue

According to the World Health Organization, around 260,000 people die each year in China from traffic accidents, although official figures cite a number closer to 58,000. The country’s motor vehicle population has been steadily increasing as people move to the cities.

The Chinese government already has taken measures to address the problem. These include installing more speed cameras and rolling out public education messages on the importance of wearing seat belts.

In 2017, in partnership with the Chinese search engine Baidu, the government launched an interactive map which shows road traffic conditions in big cities and along major highways across the country.

However, at the city and provincial levels, enforcement may be patchy and some road users may not be aware of the serious consequences of their behaviour. In Jilin, for example, attitudes towards road safety can be particularly cavalier.

“Because it is so cold, some people have been known to drink alcoholic spirits to keep them warm on long car journeys,” Wei says.

Road safety awareness, however, has grown over the years, says Zhou Min, Social Cause Manager at Huabei, Shell China’s oldest retail partner.

“The rise of the internet, in particular, has been key in shaping public opinion. People see footage of tragic road accidents and start heated discussions online about road safety. Over time, we hope they will also start to change their road habits.’’

Improving Global Road Safety

More than a million people die from road accidents each year, according to the World Health Organisation. Road traffic injuries are a major cause of death globally, and the leading cause of death of people aged 15 to 29.

In 2015, road safety was listed as one of the United Nations’ targets under its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It aims to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.

Shell is a partner in the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) which seeks to prevent road deaths and injuries around the world.

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