In April a BMW racing through a fruit market in Foshan in China’s Guangdong province knocked down a 2-year-old girl and rolled over her head. As the girl’s grandmother shouted, “Stop! You’ve hit a child!” the BMW’s driver paused, then switched into reverse and backed up over the girl. The woman at the wheel drove forward once more, crushing the girl for a third time. When she finally got out from the BMW, the unlicensed driver immediately offered the horrified family a deal: “Don’t say that I was driving the car,” she said. “Say it was my husband. We can give you money.”
It seems like a crazy urban legend: In China, drivers who have injured pedestrians will sometimes then try to kill them. And yet not only is it true, it’s fairly common; security cameras have regularly captured drivers driving back and forth on top of victims to make sure that they are dead. The Chinese language even has an adage for the phenomenon: “It is better to hit to kill than to hit and injure.” …
Most people agree that the hit-to-kill phenomenon stems at least in part from perverse laws on victim compensation. In China the compensation for killing a victim in a traffic accident is relatively small—amounts typically range from $30,000 to $50,000—and once payment is made, the matter is over. By contrast, paying for lifetime care for a disabled survivor can run into the millions. The Chinese press recently described how one disabled man received about $400,000 for the first 23 years of his care. Drivers who decide to hit-and-kill do so because killing is far more economical. Indeed, Zhao Xiao Cheng—the man caught on a security camera video driving over a grandmother five times—ended up paying only about $70,000 in compensation.
In 2010 in Xinyi, video captured a wealthy young man reversing his BMW X6 out of a parking spot. He hits a 3-year-old boy, knocking the child to the ground and rolling over his skull. The driver then shifts his BMW into drive and crushes the child again. Remarkably, the driver then gets out of the BMW, puts the vehicle in reverse, and guides it with his hand as he walks the vehicle backward over the boy’s crumpled body. The man’s foot is so close to the toddler’s head that, if alive, the boy could have reached out and touched him. The driver then puts the BMW in drive again, running over the boy one last time as he drives away.
Here too, the driver was charged only with accidentally causing a person’s death. (He claimed to have confused the boy with a cardboard box or trash bag.) Police rejected charges of murder and even of fleeing the scene of the crime, ignoring the fact that the driver ran over the boy’s head as he sped away.
These drivers are willing to kill not only because it is cheaper, but also because they expect to escape murder charges. In the days before video cameras became widespread, it was rare to have evidence that a driver hit the victim twice. Even in today’s age of cellphone cameras, drivers seem confident that they can either bribe local officials or hire a lawyer to evade murder charges.