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March 15, 2013

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Passenger hits taxi ad screen, gravely hurt

THE safety of local taxis' back-seat advertising screens is again being questioned as a woman was left in critical condition with broken bones in her eye socket after hitting one of the screens during a crash on Tuesday.

Shanghai traffic authorities said yesterday that they will evaluate the safety of the touch screens, cited in the death of a taxi passenger last year after his head hit a screen.

The screen boards, installed in about 60 percent of local taxis, will be removed if they fail to meet safety standards, said the Shanghai Transport and Port Administration.

Experts, however, said the exact relationship between the screens and passenger injuries isn't always so clear.

The crash on Tuesday happened at 2am on the Inner Ring Road when the cab, owned by Dazhong Taxi, crashed into barriers on the road.

The two women passengers, Lu Hang and a colleague, on their way home from work, were injured. Lu's colleague had slight injuries whereas Lu, a 24-year-old student who is about to graduate, was not so lucky. The screen was on her side of the seat.

They weren't wearing their seat belts.

Lu was still in Xinhua Hospital's intensive care unit with broken bones in her eye socket, nose and elsewhere on her head, doctors said.

"It is difficult to say whether she will be blind. Both eyes were swollen seriously and she hasn't regained total consciousness, so we can't yet check her eyeballs and eyesight," Dr Li Shiting, director of Xinhua Hospital's neurosurgery department, said yesterday.

"Even if she isn't blind, her eyesight will be impacted," Li said. Doctors said it should take about two weeks for the patient to stabilize and be evaluated for the injuries' long-term impacts.

Li said the injuries were caused by strong crushing pressures at high speeds, and it might not have mattered so much what was in front of her. "When the speed reaches a certain level, injury is inevitable," Li added.

Police and traffic authorities said the crash is under investigation.

Touchmedia, the owner of the screen, said the company is keeping close tabs on the incident and extends condolences to the family. "As far as we know, the screen did not break or show damage in the accident," said the company, which is waiting for the investigation results.

The taxi company has prepaid about 80,000 yuan (US$12,861) of medical expenses, according to the family.

Lu's parents arrived in the city from northern China soon after the crash.

"It will be tough facing all this, being prepared when she wakes up," said Lu's boyfriend. He claimed that the driver fell asleep while driving.

Injury recorded as early as 2009

As early as 2009, a woman was injured hitting a taxi touch screen in a crash. The screen's broken glass slashed the woman's face and teeth, forcing her to go through plastic surgeries in the following years.

When a man was killed after hitting a screen last year, the ad company denied it played any role in the death.

"I do not see any necessity to have such screens in a taxi," said a local, Wang Chen. "At first I found it amusing to touch, but later the moving advertisements make me feel uncomfortable during the ride."

The screens display commercials, quizzes and sometimes public-interest ads like encouraging blood donations. The screen's audio can be turned off.

Another passenger, surnamed Xu, said that traffic management authorities should "conduct the risk evaluations on the screen at the very first," not after a series of accidents.

Riders urged to use seat belts

Traffic administrators said previously that the screens would gradually be removed after the 2010 Shanghai World Expo but some 30,000 are still in use.

Administrators also reminded passengers to fasten their safety belts.

Safety belts can reduce the chance of injuries up to 50 percent in a crash. The mortality of passengers who sit in the back seat without fastening belts is three times greater in a crash than those who do. A recent campaign reminded passengers to buckle up. Officials also checked on whether taxis' seat belts were working after they found some hidden beneath the seats, not working or dirty.


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