Ethical discussion of Yangmingtan Bridge

In 2012, the reached-standard approach of the  in Harbin, China, collapsed because of dangerously overloaded trucks. This accident brought some design consideration issues. As construction companies, the design specifications and investment are no meaning waste budget for considering very uncommon and illegal incident. However, in term of the ethical consideration, the strength and enhancement of the bridge are necessary. Since the issue is overloaded trucks is very common in China, over-design is needed to avoid the same scenario.

Against Changing Standard

With the rapid urbanisation in China, a large number of bridges had been built in last decades for commuting convenience. By occupying the seven of ten longest bridges worldwide, the construction companies, engineering supervision companies, investors and the government got a vast amount of bridge-constructing knowledge and experience. When people need a new commuting bridge, some relevant stakeholders and interests, shows in Table 1, are involved.

The relative standard, JTG-B01-2003 Technical Standard of Highway Engineering, legislated by the Ministry of Communications of the People’s Republic of China. It is well-researched standard and used as a guide for relevant building activities. This clear-cut book is the significant reference for balancing Public finance, public health, public welfare, reputation, law obligation and respect. For this reason, changing it is not a valid measure.

Firstly, one should be taken aware that traffic overloading is the direct cause of the accident of the Yangmingtan Bridge (about 480-500 tonnes, three times as claimed). Also, the companies involved in the construction and the project supervision are qualified and sophisticated, proved by many other projects. According to the accident investigation report and photos from the accident scene, it was a quality-proved structure, evidenced by the bridge body maintaining complete with nearly no cracks after it fell around 7 metres, and the concrete components and the steel structures have experienced little damage and distortion.

Some people have doubted that the single column piers were a flawed design. It has not considered an extreme case like what has occurred. Therefore, the organisation should take the responsibilities. However, it is unfair to do so, since the truck drivers in this accident have seriously against laws and regulations (i.e. Heavy vehicle should drive in the middle lane on a bridge), which claim their obligation of driving safety and respecting the public health. Moreover, the traffic administrates department should also be blamed due to the negligence of duties.

Finally, changing standard is a time-costing and expensive process. Furthermore, the unreasonable high safety factor may indirectly impose a financial waste and budget crisis. Instead of changing the rule, the government has begun to take measures, i.e. to adjust the over-loading punishment, to improve the ability to administrate the engineering projects and traffic controls to avoid an accident. On the other hand, if only improve the structure quality, the truck drivers still take the chance due to lack of punishment hence tragedies like Yangmingtan Bridge may occur again.

In a word, the unreasonable requirement for safety is unacceptable because the desire of safety can be infinite and the investment/budget is limited.

For Improving Standard

Based on the investigation result, it stated that the collapse of the bridge is caused by four overloaded trucks on broad on the same slot of the bridge momentarily. The report mentioned that the structure of design and materials selection of the bridge fulfilled the government and law requirement. However, the doubt about the safety of the government construction from the public has been raised due to this issue. Furthermore, will the accident like Yangmingtan Bridge be avoided in the future if the design of the construction has considered the damage due to the overloading?

According to the statistics, overloaded trucks are frequently found in China (Some report stated that around 80% trucks are overloading). Firstly, this is the consequences of high transportation tax, road user fee and petrol price in China. Secondly, the maximum penalties of truck overloading are 2000RMB (about £200) and disqualify from driving only. As the result, Companies are more willing to pay the fine rather than paying the amount of extra cost to avoid overloading. And also, some vehicle industry use high strength material and unique internal structure to increase the actual load of a truck without indicating on the capacity label to reduce the chances of failing the load check.

Overload is an illegal action, so the truck drivers and the companies have to take the responsibilities. However, the punishment of this should not be losing their life in the ethical perspective. Also, from the police report, about 40% of the truck drivers do not realize that their trucks are overloading, and lots of drivers cannot reject the order from their employers (or lose the job). Hence, by considering the safety of other innocent road users, the collapse of the bridge may affect them or even risk their life. It is unfair that they are suffering from something that they are not responsible.

Regarding the economy, the cost of rebuilding the collapsed bridge is likely to beyond the value of strength enhancing. There is also a huge economic loss due to the delay of transportation. From the public-good aspects, The collapse will result in disrupting the response of the government’s emergency units to the urgent situation, as there are average 9800 vehicles pass Yangmingtan bridge every hour (including a fire engine and police car).

What even the possibility of the bridge collapse causes by overloading is rare, from the above discussion; there is no reason to put human life in danger to save the strength enhancing cost.

Therefore, the design of the bridge should not be just met the government requirement but also taken account of the overload factor to protect the road user and avoid the same disaster happen again.

Economic benefits and ethical considerations are often confronting. The balance and compromise are always checking in engineering fields.

Xihao Huang
Jiecheng Tang
Hoiki Cheung
Jingwei Zhao


6 thoughts on “Ethical discussion of Yangmingtan Bridge

  1. Although the other road users are innocent, the reason cause this tragedy is because of the illegal action of the truck drivers and the truck companies. Government shouldn’t be blamed due to this accident. The law and the standard should not be changed due to the illegal behaviors. This is the tolerance and acquiescence to the illegal activities and offense to the government and the law.


  2. Both sides raise good points. Such as you can’t increase the factor of safety a very high amount as this will increase financial strain and changing the standard would be a very difficult thing to do.
    The second article also made good points by saying that the truck drivers often don’t know the load they are transporting and even if they did then they couldn’t say anything as they risk losing their job.

    After reading this, my personal opinion is that the government should target the companies directly and more severely for endangering the lives of their employees and others through this illegal practice of overloading. If the companies knew that there would be serious repercussions if caught overloading then they would be less likely to do so in the future. Thus making the trucks lighter and thus stopping bridges from collapsing due to extreme loads. It seems unfair to punish the driver for driving an overloaded truck as it appears in that situation he’ll be damned either way. Fired by the company if he doesn’t drive an overloaded truck and disqualified from driving if he gets caught driving an overloaded truck.

    The fault of the accident seems to lie squarely with the companies and the government should not be blamed for the illegal activities of its citizens as long as it tries to reduce it.


  3. This is definitely a good article especially the discussion against changing standard. It provided enough arguments and reasonable references. The final conclusion is concise and clear for readers. To support improving standard, it is generally believed that standard is not truth. it should be allowed to change due to local situation. For example, in northern China, there are quantities of heavy industry. The load of transportation is generally heavier than Southern China which is, on the contrary, mainly light industry located. it is said that nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards. However, inflexible standard will obstruct the development.


  4. Good article.
    The viewpoint for against changing standard are very powerful. There are adequant augrements for this viewpoints. So I think there should be more arguments to support the viewpoint of improving the standard. At the improving standard part, the augrements are mostly discussed from the ethical perspective. however sometimes ethical thinking do not adapt with public safety, for this situation, government should has zero tolerance with the inlegal behaviours; otherwise the similary accident will happen agian somewhere else due to the drivers’ overloading transportation. The drivers should obey the law and the traffic rules of the bridge, governments don’t need to change the laws and standards because of the ethical tolerance with the beaking rules.


  5. If the bridge failed due to only 4 trucks that were overloaded then it suggests that it had a design flaw. If the trucks were not overloaded the same load would have been transported in a larger convoy of trucks, if anything increasing the load on the bridge. The fact that the structure that hadn’t failed was intact after falling 7 m is irrelevant; what matters is that the weakest part of the structure is strong enough to safely survive the loads it experiences in service. If the, demonstrably too weak, structure is to be reinstated then installing weighbridges would be wise; these would ensure overloaded trucks didn’t use the bridge and control flow so that too many trucks were not passing at the same time.


  6. Bridges should have suitable safety factors to allow for the stupidity/greed of the people who use them, this is part of the responsibility of the engineer. However, the law should be enforced by random checks on vehicles; weigh brides or portable axle scales (~$3000) should be used. Overloaded trucks cause damage to the road infrastructure and the companies that do this should be heavily fined, fined to the point that they go out of business. Vehicles should be confiscated at least. Fines really needs to hurt the company or it is not worth it.


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