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Driving insanity in China


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Don't get me wrong here. I admire and really enjoy the chinese people and their wonderful country and culture. I'm honored to be a guest here. But, what is up with their driving and road habits?

I drive nearly everyday to my job. It's just 4 kilometers away. But, almost everyday I avoid a serious accident. And I see them happen all the time.

I live in a small tourist town about 85 kilometers west of Chengdu. Here there seems to be no road enforement at all. I pull up to a red light and stop dutifully and everyone blows past me on either side.

Here's a few examples of the unbelievable things I have seen. ie; Traffic lights mean nothing here. The lines in the center of the road mean nothing. Cell phone use while driving is technically illegal. Yet almost every driver has one glued to his ear. Pedestrians seems oblivious to the dangers of walking in the road. I've seen two guys chatting calmly in the center of the driving lane with their backs turned to the oncoming traffic. Blaring horns and screeching brakes didn't even make them flinch.

Cars entering the travel lane just pull out without slowing or looking at what's oncoming.

Trucks, buses, taxi's and other work related drivers seem immune to all standard traffic laws. They seem to think that blaring their horns gives them the right of way. Even if it's crossing the double line, going through stop lights, the wrong way on one way streets, or going through crosswalks filled with people. There is no such thing as obeying a one way street sign. Motor vehicle routinely drive on the sidewalk and pedestrians routinely walk in the middle of traffic lanes. I've seen a woman strolling a baby in a carriage in the middle of fast moving traffic.

I've seen a biker knocked flat in the road and the cars just drove on by, crunching over broken moped parts and one car even ran right over his leg. Nobody was helping him at all.

Onlookers just gawked from the sidewalk and stared.

Forget helmet laws for motorcycles. (there is one on the rule books too) How many motorcyclists drive with just a construction hard-hat on? Or with nothing at all? I'd say about 80%. Don't these folks care about their own safety? A good helmet only costs about 140 yuan. How much does traumatic brain injury cost?

I've had to powerslide my motorcycle, perform extreme emergency braking manuevers, and pull radical power-turns just to avoid senseless slaughter. I've ducked as boulders flew off overfilled trucks. I've dodged metal poles sliding off a truck as he continued driving down the road. I counted 6 metal poles before I turned off. I've replaced two tires in two months from other debris. I've seen folks dead or dying in the road and the onlookers just stare and gawk while pointing and laughing. (Laughing mind you) Nobody helps to stop serious bleeding or even to move the victim to a safer area. It's mind-numbingly insane.

In America you often see what we call "roadkill". There you see the squirrels, rabbits, racoons, turtles, deer, dogs and various other wild life flattened dead in the road. Here, I'm seeing roadkill just as much. But, it's not wildlife, it's chinese citizens flattened in the road. It's a bit disturbing. I just don't want to join the ranks of the crushed and dismembered. But, perhaps the authorities just look at it as another measure for population control. Who knows. But, Darwin's theory of the weak and stupid getting annialated is definitely at play here on the roads in China. At least my driving skills are now honed like a razor. :lol:

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I've had to powerslide my motorcycle

You have a motorcycle. That's where you're going wrong right there. Bikes are completely invisible to Chinese drivers.

Looking at it the other way, I used to drive for a living in the UK and worked in road transport in one form or another since I left University ten years ago. There is a marked difference between diving in the UK and in China. However, it's not all one sided. In china the speeds tend to be much lower. Excluding Beijing and Shanghai, cars are often happy to pootle along at 30 km/h. In contrast, a UK driver would consider 30 mph (about 50 km/h and the legal limit in town) to be ridiculously slow. The seriousness of an accident goes up exponentially with speed.

While the driving often looks chaotic and lawless, most accidents I have seen here are little more than nudges. Usually to the side quarters as someone changes lane without looking. The only "major" accidents I've seen have been on the express ways where the speeds are significantly higher.

I have noticed variations in driving style. What I said above goes out the window in Shanghai and Beijing. I suspect other regions to have their own habits. The one thing that annoys me is that as soon as they have had the slightest tap, both cars stop instantly. They will then sit there blocking several lanes of traffic until the police turn up and record the event. Why do they do this. I read somewhere that it's to do with being accused of a hit and run, but surely they can move the car over to the kerbside.

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I would like to mention a joke I read long time ago about taxi's in the city of Taipei, Taiwan. I know it's not in mainland China, but the drivers are still Chinese (IMO). The joke goes:

A westerner just arrived in Taipei and got on a taxi. After some crazy driving in the city's chaotic traffic, the westerner squeezed out a sarcastic compliment to the taxi driver, "Sir, you are probably one of the best drivers in this city." The taxi driver proudly said, "Sure. The second and third tier drivers were all killed in car accidents." :mrgreen:

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I wish they drove slower here like "Rincewind" suggests is the norm elsewhere in China, but this is Sichuan Province. "Wushijiao" is correct. The speeds are much higher here and the terrain is varied. When I go hit the links at Quingcheng Mtn. golf course, the road there is a 60 kph. zone. It's about a half hour ride. But everybody varies in speed from the puttering farm tractors and bicycles (20 kph.) to the speed demon taxi's at 70-100 kph. Then you've got the various construction type vehicles (with no brakes) juggernauting along at 60 kph. What really boggles my mind are the various pedestrians that cross the road and never look what's coming. The just start walking across and never look up. It's amazing.

And have you noticed when two people are arguing over a fender bender or an arguement over anything really, the Chinese people gather in huge crowds around the arguers. It's like a spectators sport here. You rarely see that in western countries. I've seen two guys in a heated shouting match with perhaps 60-70 onlookers encircling them just watching the action. The guys argueing seem oblivious to the crowd. And the onlookers are sticking their faces right into the middle of them. Kinda wierd.

Motorcycles while kinda dangerous to ride also have unique advantages. When those accidents that block all the traffic happen (and it's quite often) a motorcycle can always go off road and sneek by. You also have more leeway in avoiding collisions. But, we do pay a higher price if one happens. So, say a prayer or burn some incense for me. I need all the extra help I can get. :help:lol:

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I think the police can decide damage payments on the spot, so you need to leave everything as is in order for them to get an accurate view of what happened, and how much was broken.

At least in Beijing, the traffic administration bureau has implemeted a "fast resolution" process for minor accidents. Basically, it's up to the drivers to quickly determine fault before the traffic police arrives (according to Chinese traffic laws, it's usually quite obvious who is at fault), and then they must move both vehicles to the side of the road and wait for the officer. If they end up arguing in the middle of the road and block traffic, then both drivers will get fined 200 RMB.

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I'd say it's better than it was in Beijing - in my experience people generally move their cars and argument to the side of the road.

OP: What differences do you notice when you get to the bigger cities. My impression in Beijing (I don't drive, btw) was that in the city proper at least people were at the very least limited in how much damage they could do by the fact that the traffic stopped anyone driving at any great speed, and roads where you could get up to speed - the ring roads mainly - were free of accident-magnets like three-wheelers and bikes.

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and max out my insurance coverage.

Read the small prints, driving in China may be argued as suicide attempt.

One word comes to mind when describing driving in China: brainless

First thing I tell a driver is not to use the horn, it annoys me greatly. Next I ask them to use turning lights. Next is not to switch lanes for no reason.

But on the good side, it is an effort to control overpopulation in a little way.

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The driving in Beijing is a lot more "civilized" that in some other parts of China I've seen. The scariest/worst driving I've experienced in my limited travels was in Hangzhou. Of note were the dented panels on EVERY taxi car I saw there. This was true even for the newer taxi cars (Passats).

I am probably going to get flamed for saying this, but I don't think that driving in BJ is as dangerous as most westerners think. Yes, I agree that it can seem terrifying. And I'll admit that when I first started driving here, I was terrified. However, it got really easy once I learned the driving "culture" and the unwritten rules. And who knows, maybe my driving 水平 has also gone up a few notches too.

The most challenging aspect for me was merging onto a busy road or changing lanes. I had to drop the idea of maintaining a "safety space" around my car. I quickly learned that as long as there is enough room for you to squeeze in other drivers will usually slow down or even get out of the way to let you in. Back home if you were to assume this a lot of times it would lead to getting rear-ended. Somebody else mentioned the relatively low speeds here and that is also definitely a big factor.

Of course, that is not to say that there are no bad drivers here. Private car ownership is a fairly new concept, and as a result there are a lot of new and inexperienced drivers on the roads. This is not helped by the fact that the driving schools here are in general very poor at educating drivers. Their #1 objective is to get the most number of drivers "passing" the driving exam in the shortest amount of time. These inexperienced drivers just tend to drive slowly and are a bit clueless, so they are more of an annoyance really than a real threat. What does upset me are the drivers who show no consideration for others. These types of drivers you would encounter back home too; the difference being that the police there would usually do something about it.

I will admit that the driving habits and traffic patterns here do force you to be focused and alert while driving. If you're not, then you're asking for trouble. I'm actually a bit worried about driving the next time I go home. Not because I feel I've become a bad driver, but rather because I've gotten too used to driving over here.

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I wonder if being in Sichuan makes it worse.

This is so true as I thought I had gone from barbaric Germany to civilized Rome when I was in Beijing. Sichuan is a horrible place for driving and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the rain or terrain. It has to do with the fact that Sichuan is a place of great "individualism" :twisted:

And here in mianyang the problem is compounded by the fact that no one goes the same speed: you have one guy putting along at 20km/h and a taxi flying at 79km/h and all the others are somewhere in between. Quite fun...and haven't been in an accident yet. I think most of the accidents that I see though are mopeds that get struck by cars...

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" Flameproof " I totally agree about the damned horns. Some of these Chinese drivers might as well hard-wire the horn to the ignition. The horns here get far more use than the brake pads. I'm learning that bad habit too quickly.

"CDN in BJ" I know exactly what you're thinking about as to what happens when you return home. I was thinking the exact same thing. I guess we'll just have to re-adapt.

When i get back to the United States I'll have to unhook the horn. I've already grown accustomed to using it too much. If you blow the horn (like they do here) in the "States"

you'll be getting the middle finger flashed at you and you might even get into a brawl over it.

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