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December 18, 2010

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Belting up in taxis to get easier

ACCESS to rear seatbelts in Shanghai's taxis, a frequent concern for expats in the city, will cease to be a problem from next year.

That's when the taxi industry begins to introduce vehicles with PVC seats, doing away with the white dust covers that make it difficult for passengers to locate the belts in the back seats.

All new taxis in Shanghai will be fitted with PVC seats without covers and, at the rate of replacement - a taxi's length of service being generally four to five years - all the city's taxis should be cover free within five years, industry sources said.

Ian Bauert, a foreign company manager, told Shanghai Daily that one of his colleagues was injured when she was in the rear of a taxi two weeks ago. In a collision, the woman was thrown forward against the front seat, smashing two of her teeth and suffering whiplash, Bauert said. The woman was not wearing a seatbelt because she could not access it under the white cloth cover, he said.

"Access to a seatbelt would almost certainly have prevented or reduced these injuries," he said, calling it "frustrating" that most taxis were fitted with rear seatbelts but the buckles were buried under the white covers.

A Dazhong taxi company cabbie, Cao Yong'an, said the change will come as good news, especially to foreigners who seem to have a higher awareness of the necessity of wearing seatbelts compared to Chinese people.

"Some foreigners, especially first-time visitors, would rummage around the rear seat to look for the safety belt and get confused when they couldn't find it," Cao said. "But I rarely find it an issue with Chinese passengers."

According to local traffic regulations, cabbies failing to have their passengers wear seatbelts face a fine of 50 yuan (US$7.50). But, in practice, police only focus on the driver and front passenger.

Cao, a taxi driver with 16 years' experience, said the authority should also endeavor to improve people's car safety awareness. Otherwise, few passengers would bother to use the rear seatbelts, even if they were available.

"For as long as I have been a driver, I only remember seeing people sitting in the rear of other sedans wearing seatbelts on highways one or two times," he said.


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