The rapid growth of the Chinese economy has brought a flood of new drivers on the roads, and created conditions that have made China the country with the most traffic fatalities in the world.
The image of Beijing as a city of bicycles is rapidly fading as more Beijingers, with higher incomes than ever and a yearning for freedom to go where they want, get behind the wheel in larger numbers.
A World Health Organization report says China is among the world's deadliest places for drivers and pedestrians. Agency spokesman Bob Dietz, at the WHO Beijing office, calls the situation on China's roads gruesome.
"Depending on how you count the numbers, we have come up with a figure that about 600 people die every day in China in some sort of road injury or road traffic accident," he said. "That is a very large number."
China manufactured and sold more than 4.3 million vehicles last year, and sales rose by 60 percent from the year before.
Experts say more than half of all car owners in China this year are first-time drivers.
Ford Motor of China says the market for cars continues to skyrocket. Kenneth Hsu, Vice President of Ford Motor China, says the flood of inexperienced drivers on increasingly overcrowded roads is a dangerous combination.
"Because these are first-time buyers, many of them do not really know the trouble or the complexity of owning an automobile," said Mr. Hsu. "It is really a thrill that people are looking to experience and not knowing what is going to come with the ownership of an automobile."
The government's Public Security Traffic Management Bureau says China is the nation with the highest number of road fatalities in the world with more than 104,000 people killed in traffic accidents last year alone.
The World Health Organization is urging nations around the globe to curb road deaths. It says the number of traffic deaths in China could rise by 80 percent by the year 2020.
The WHO's Bob Dietz says this trend could be turned around if roads are improved and traffic rules enforced. He says one big reason China's roadways are so unsafe is that traffic laws and automobile safety rules are not observed.
"If China were to go down the road that other industrialized nations have gone down, and that is making sure that seatbelts are used, or appropriate seating for children; to make sure that speeding laws and drinking and driving laws are enforced, you can most likely start? bringing about a really significant drop in the number of deaths," explained Mr. Dietz.
China's government has recognized a need to improve road safety, and officials earlier this year called for an overhaul of the country's traffic management system.