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Driven to Kill: Why drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit

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.”


This 2008 television report features security camera footage of a dusty white Passat reversing at high speed and smashing into a 64-year-old grandmother. The Passat’s back wheels bounce up over her head and body. The driver, Zhao Xiao Cheng, stops the car for a moment then hits the gas, causing his front wheels to roll over the woman. Then Zhao shifts into drive, wheels grinding the woman into the pavement. Zhao is not done. Twice more he shifts back and forth between drive and reverse, each time thudding over the grandmother’s body. He then speeds away from her corpse.

Incredibly, Zhao was found not guilty of intentional homicide. Accepting Zhao’s claim that he thought he was driving over a trash bag, the court of Taizhou in Zhejiang province sentenced him to just three years in prison for “negligence.” Zhao’s case was unusual only in that it was caught on video. As the television anchor noted, “You can see online an endless stream of stories talking about cases similar to this one.”

“Double-hit cases” have been around for decades. I first heard of the “hit-to-kill” phenomenon in Taiwan in the mid-1990s when I was working there as an English teacher. A fellow teacher would drive us to classes. After one near-miss of a motorcyclist, he said, “If I hit someone, I’ll hit him again and make sure he’s dead.” Enjoying my shock, he explained that in Taiwan, if you cripple a man, you pay for the injured person’s care for a lifetime. But if you kill the person, you “only have to pay once, like a burial fee.” He insisted he was serious—and that this was common.

Geoffrey Sant wrote about drivers in China who intentionally kill pedestrians. Ask him anything.
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.

Security cameras have regularly captured drivers driving back and forth on top of victims to make sure that they are dead.
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.


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