A report from our Far East Correspondent

From: Response
Subject: Chinese driving rules
I have only been riding in my Chinese town for 8 months.
I am the only white guy cyclist in a city of a few hundred thousand people. My biggest fear is that I will be hit by a car that is trying to avoid someone doing something stupid. Its just a system of negligence and near misses.

In China, they drive on the right side like in the USA. However, that is where the similarities end. With the exception of the bigger cities, driving goes like this;

Right of way
In China, the right of way is determined by the party who is effectively blocking traffic. There is no such thing as cutting someone off. If they can get their nose in front of you, they have right of way. This can be frightening (and fatal) when you are traveling at moderate to high speed and get “cut off”. No one take getting cut off personal, they just try and go around you, even of that means cutting off someone else.

Making a left turn
There are two popular ways to do this. The most common way is to begin the turn by merging all the way to the left of the street, well before the intersection, into oncoming traffic. This insures that you have the “right of way” since you are blocking traffic. It is not uncommon for people to attempt to pass one another on left turns. It’s a real cluster fuck! The second most popular and most baffling left turn is when they fade as far right as they can and then turn left without looking left (on a four lane road, this means they are cutting off three lanes of traffic!). It took me a while to recognize when someone is setting up for this move. I had an experience of having some old dude fade right then attempt to turn left through my rear wheel as I was passing him, resulting in a dynamic crash on his part and a miracle save on my part. Thank god he was not driving a car!

Making a right turn
Right turns are always made without looking left. They simply turn into the street regardless of traffic and assume right of way. Then, all they need to do is look forward to make sure that they are not going to hit someone going the wrong direction.

Riding the wrong direction
Riding the wrong direction is very common. It seems that many bike and trike riders are inclined to go the wrong direction so that they can observe oncoming traffic (it’s a way of life). When passing opposing traffic, the wrong way riders will try and squeeze to your right, forcing you left into the traffic that they can see. I usually try to merge so far right that they cannot pass me on the right, and it usually works. However, this has also resulted in my having to come to a complete stop and have a dick measuring contest on many occasions ( I am a rude foreigner!) I have on four occasions, had wrong way riders lock their eyes onto my front wheel and proceed to run head on into front my tire. Cars drive the wrong direction and use the oncoming traffic lanes to pass people. This doesn’t sound unusual, but when you see it happening on a 4 lane road in a busy urban setting, you can honestly say it is shockingly dangerous.

Stop lights
Traffic lights do not mean anything to most drivers unless there is a traffic camera (many people cover their license plates to avoid this problem). The taxi’s and busses know which intersections have them and which don’t. This creates and frightening scenario where the drivers approach traffic stopped at a light and then attempt to go around them by either swerving left into the oncoming traffic lane or squeeze to the right shoulder and then run the light. I was almost hit this way a few times. Now, like the cabbies, busses and locals I know which intersections to look out for.

Jay walking
Crossing the street is done without grace or forethought. It seems many people like to look at their shoes, talk on their cell phone, joke with friends, eat or do just about anything but look out for traffic. I watched an old woman pulling a 3 year old child in a wagon with a 10 foot piece of rope. When crossing a busy intersection, she simply walked in front of 4 lanes of traffic dragging the child in the wagon far behind her. My heart skipped a beat as people tried to swerve around the wagon, through the rope!

Straight aways
Since you never really have the right of way unless you are cutting someone off, straight aways are very dangerous. An example, I was just cruising along when I had a motorcycle taxi come flying up from behind me, cut me off and slam on his brakes in a panicked attempt to pick up a passenger before someone else did. He put me in a position to either slam into his intended passenger that he was vying for, or lean into him and is motorcycle. Somehow in the resulting crash, I ended up landing on the back of the motorcycle seat, sitting behind the driver with one leg still straddling my bicycle. My momentum had pushed him up over his gas tank, crushing his balls against the instrument cluster. I limped away with a spilled beer, a bent fork and a sore back. Also, I have been rear ended by a car that continued to try and push me and sandwich me into the back of a truck in front of me. Also, I have been in a car cruising 70 kph on an open road and had a teen aged girl step off the sidwalk and unexpectedly dart in front of us without even looking. With a flick of the steering wheel and a lot of tire smoke we missed her by inches and almost flipped the car in the process. She didn’t even look back to see what the commotion was about!

Outlaw bike riding
There are few enforced rules for bikes. The only rule that is loosely enforced is when the cops confiscate illegal (uninsured unlicensed) bicycle taxis. Riding on the sidewalks, through lights, and even in places that are specifically designated “no bike riding”, is common place. Most riders are commuters, delivery guys or illegal bicycle taxis. Everything is delivered by bikes. You will see guys with a whole brand new dining room furniture set, strapped sky high to the bed of their three wheelers. You’ll see guys with a half ton of re-bar pedaling along to their customers. In the bigger cities, you will see that the bikes have license plates and I hear that you have to have a special permit for an electric bike which are very common here. Stolen bikes are painted a really wired urban camo pattern. I guess they figure if they break up a bikes lines, that its not as easy to recognize?

Horror stories or no, I will continue to ride and I will enjoy it.

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About big jonny

The man, the legend. The guy who started it all back in the Year of Our Lord Beer, 2000, with a couple of pages worth of idiotic ranting hardcoded on some random porn site that would host anything you uploaded, a book called HTML for Dummies (which was completely appropriate), a bad attitude (which hasn’t much changed), and a Dell desktop running Win95 with 64 mgs of ram and a six gig hard drive. Those were the days. Then he went to law school. Go figure. Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

9 thoughts on “A report from our Far East Correspondent

  1. Well Dog bless the USA then. It ain’t so bad here. I like my 35 mph descents through three or five green lights too much to ride with those kinds of conditions. As we said in the Air Force – Fuck a bunch of that. Right of way to whoever is blocking traffic? Sounds like some Maoist bullshit.

  2. It’s no wonder why Chinese drive as poorly as they do in the US. I lived next door to a couple Chinese girls in college. It was painful to watch them jockey into a parking spot out front. It could easily take 7 or 8 tries over 10 minutes. One of their boyfriends had a Lotus Espirit and an Acura NSX – he couldn’t drive those any better – they were totally scraped and dinged – total waste of good metal.

    That lady pulling the wagon through traffic gets to try again for a boy if she loses that one.

    Pretty stark contrast to traffic in Japan. Everything I’ve seen there is pretty civil and orderly.

  3. chinese drivers were the worst when i lived in SF!

    his email is hilarious though. i can’t imagine that kind of chaos…i hope he stays safe.

  4. Sounds an awful lot like traffic patterns in the Dominican Republic when I lived there, except with a whole lot more people.

  5. Last month I was in India and they drive almost the exact same way except the other side of the road. Traffic lights mean nothing unless there is cop there and lane markers are treated as a suggestion. Tail lights and head lights don’t need to work, but the horn is a must.

  6. +1 for driving without a horn in India. It goes: gas pedal, horn, steering wheel, brakes. Beating incessantly on the outer surface of the driver’s door is the standard emergency procedure for a horn failure.

  7. I have been riding around China for a decade, and it only gets worse with more and more drivers that have no concept of how to drive a vehicle. Everything he decribes is pretty much spot-on. Also, the Chinese love to complain and yell at you for riding too fast. I know of a couple of guys who have gotten tickets for riding too fast. Of course, given that most of the Chinese ride at not much better than walking speed, it doesn’t take much to be seen as riding too fast.