Driving in China

After my previous post, seeing how difficult life is for poor pedestrians in China, you might have thought that the best option is to drive everywhere. Big mistake! Driving here also has a lot of disadvantages, among them the awful traffic (everybody and their grandma have a car now) and the strange fake accidents that I have written about before. But, apart from this, driving in a country that is not your own is always a challenge, because the way people act behind the wheel is different. For example, in my hometown, which is very close to Portugal, it is always said Portuguese people drive very fast and carelessly. If two countries as close as Spain and Portugal have different driving attitudes, imagine Spain and China! I have only driven in these two countries so all my observations apply to the differences between them.

Well, this pic is from a taxi in Hong Kong. In China, the wheel is on the left.


When driving in China, the first thing you notice is what I already mentioned in my last post: yielding to others is unheard of. When trying to change lanes, you might see that cars don’t give you space so you can join their lane. I think they believe if they “show weakness” and let you pass, then all the other cars in the road will follow suit and try to get ahead of them. No one wants to be the weakest link!

The second thing you notice is that almost no one uses the turn signals. There is a more advanced system here, which is: you have to read the mind of the car in front of you. If a car that was driving on the leftmost lane in the highway suddenly decides that he has to take the exit on the right, he’s not going to carefully change lanes to approach the right side, and he’s not going to use the turn signals. He will just quickly turn to the right and all the cars coming behind on the other lanes will have to deal with it. If there is a crash, it will be your fault because you were behind him and should have foreseen his intentions! There are also cases of cars that miss their exit and decide that the best course of action is reversing in the middle of the highway. That happened to me in a taxi in Shanghai (my taxi missed the exit and reversed in the middle on the one-way elevated ring road). I genuinely thought I was going to die. There is a very famous case of this which happened a few years ago, when a bus was reversing in the highway and a truck crashed into it. The video from the bus security cameras is in YouTube (no blood, “just” people flying around) and I think it should be compulsory to show it in driving schools.

To be honest, I haven’t driven much in China, as I have my personal chauffeur (hello C.!). However, some evenings when he drinks a bit too much I have to drive us back home. Luckily it’s always late at night when there’s not much traffic, and I think that’s why I’ve never had an accident. I’m not used to the way people drive here and I probably wouldn’t react fast enough to some dimwit suddenly changing lanes. But what I’m most scared of is the electric bikes: they are everywhere and they are like ninjas, you don’t hear them and at night you don’t even see them as they don’t turn the headlight on to save battery.

We had an accident once… but I wasn’t the one driving.

Here, like everywhere else, the law says you cannot use your phone while driving, but sadly it is very common. Every time I see someone suddenly going very slow, or unable to stay inside their lane, it’s because they are talking on the phone (or worse, looking at it!) and I see it when we overtake them. The seat belt is also not widely used, especially in smaller cities and professional drivers everywhere. Truckers and taxi drivers seem to think the belt is an annoyance designed to make their job harder and they have a special clip to “cheat” the vehicle into believing the seat belt is on so the alarm doesn’t sound. For some drivers, it is a big offence if you try to use the belt when riding their car; it’s like you don’t trust them. The last time this happened to me was in Jinan, when our Uber driver told me I didn’t need to fasten the belt. I told him this was the custom in my country and fastened it anyway. However, in Shenzhen it is compulsory to fasten it and when you jump in a taxi, it’s the first thing the driver tells you. It seems if the police catches a passenger without the belt on, the driver will get a fine. I think this rule should be extended to all of China!

The clips you can get in Taobao to cheat your car and make it believe you have the seat belt fastened.


If, after reading this, you still want to drive in China, check out my post about how to get your driving license here!