10 Surprises for an Englishman in China behind the wheel

Well, not quite! I haven’t actually taken my written driving test yet, but it is imminent and these are my observations (and fears)! (Edit: test passed 2016:08:04)

steering-wheels

1. When driving expect to make plenty of U-turns. It’s not unusual to find a lane for doing Ueys at a junction. Sometimes the U-turn lane is toward the right-hand side of the roadway, even though making a U-turn requires turning left! Don’t worry, there will be a particular phase of the traffic lights when only U-turns can be made.

Lanes

2. It’s fine to weave between lanes especially if you’re a taxi or a bus driver. (OK it’s not good practice but it’s what happens).

KnitOnePearlOneKnit one, pearl one. Spot the difference!

3. Nearly everyone drives within the speed limit; life has enough anxiety without adding speed to it. In residential areas, blocks are served by narrow service roads with controlled entry/exit. Speed limit – dead slow! It’s safe for pedestrians, children and dogs! On most city roads the speed limit is 50 km/hr or about 30 mph and the main streets are multi-lane. And on the bigger roads and expressways, expect to see minimum speed limits!

SpeedLimitThe minimum speed limit in this lane is 90 km/hr
(110 in the far left lane)

4. Watch out for traffic lights; they’re on the far side of the road junction and none on your side! To the un-initiated it can seem difficult to know where to stop at a red light. There is usually a crosswalk (OK, Zebra Crossing to you and me and just a place where pedestrians expect to get killed – well that’s what it feels like anyway. Pedestrians do have right of way but drivers only ‘just’ give way! It’s not like the UK when drivers are not allowed to cross a Zebra Crossing if a pedestrian is on it, even on the far side) before the junction and the stop line is just before it even if it’s invisible! And keep an eye on the traffic light for your particular lane; it may well be different from other lanes! Sometimes the left turning lane is BETWEEN straight ahead lanes if traffic has recently merged from an elevated roadway!

TrafficLights

5. Police hand signals at intersections are COMPLETELY different from the UK. You just need to learn them, AND generally they apply to the traffic that the police officer is looking at!

TurnRight

Here he’s directing traffic (not you) to turn right.

 

6. You need to be very aware of pedestrians on the highway AND electric bikes going any direction (often against the traffic) and riding without lights at night. Pedestrians often walk in the roadway because the footpath is blocked by trees, street furniture and electric bikes. You HAVE to give way to them!

WalkingOnRoad

 


7. When an electric bicycle /scooter beeps his horn it’s often NOT to warm you to get out of the way but to invite you to use him as an unofficial taxi – if you dare!

ElectricBike

8. Don’t be surprised by the number of people holding up their mobile phones to their ears while driving! Even bus drivers! Always best to allow for such things! Illegal? Of course!

MobilePhone

9. There’s a lot of honking going on in China. Even the written driving test recommends using the horn (or flashing lights) as well as indicators when overtaking. In mountainous areas expect to see this sign at a sharp bend, which means ‘honk’!

 HonkCurve

 

10. There’s a huge discontinuity between the standard of driving recommended by the written driving test and what people actually do (Isn’t there always? It’s no different in China). Perhaps it’s down to the low frequency of prosecutions for driving offenses? The written test very much recommends defensive driving and taking the initiative to give way. The reality is that many seem to drive in a very aggressive fashion, often ‘barging in’ in front of you and expecting you to give way.

IMG_3764Our new motor. We don’t want to get it scratched!

The following is a useful guide to driving in China
http://wikitravel.org/en/Driving_in_China#The_Mindset_of_a_Chinese_driver

Could YOU drive in China? Here’s a video from YouTube to give you a taster! (NB You only need watch the first minute to get a flavour of things!)