Traffic chaos in China: what you need to know

China, the world‘s biggest auto market, has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities. It‘s the No. 1 cause of death for residents age 45 and younger.

A January 2011 news article claimed road-related deaths there are actually underreported. One particular grim two-day period in May 2010 saw 70 people killed in traffic accidents throughout the country.

New drivers in China

Part of the problem is that many people didn‘t drive in China until the last decade, which saw an increase in the number of passenger vehicles on the road from 10 million in 2000 to 70 million in 2010.The average Chinese driver possesses fewer than five years‘ experience.

Many drivers are unlicensed and the ones who do have permits do not have to go through any rigorous practice or coursework to get clearance to drive legally.

Rules of the road are largely ignored, and the most followed of all traffic behaviors is simply getting out of the way when a car bigger than you or the one you‘re in barrels down the road.

Many drivers just expect pedestrians to move out of the way, and many carelessly run red lights.

As a whole, there‘s not much regulation for traffic, this includes road signs in addition to traffic lights, and pedestrians never have the right of way.

Seatbelts are not always available and are rarely worn, not even by small children.

If you do get into a traffic accident, don‘t lose your cool, and stay where you are until police come. Things can get out of control easily and a crowd is sure to gather around you and the other party. Some onlookers may even try to determine who is at fault and what the penalty will be, even suggesting that the "wrong" party, often the foreigner, pay a fee up to 1,000 RMB. Even locals will bargain over costs owed for damages at an accident scene.

(It's like dodgems, but with real cars. Which only makes it more fun! Disclaimer: Dodgems with real cars is not certified to be fun, and may lead to serious injury or death)

Traffic disobedience in China

And it‘s not just cars you should look out for. If Chinese drivers disobey traffic laws, you can bet cyclists do, too.

Just as with vehicles, it‘s common to see a pack of bike riders flying through the intersection on a red light or turning when the light signals you can walk. Some riders will scream at you to get you out of their way.

It‘s not just the sole bike rider to look out for. Many people in China ride bikes packed to the hilt with boxes of produce and other wares. Colliding with one of these folks could lead to serious injury.

One person who traveled to Shanghai in 2009 said most people honked horns or tooted bike bells to alert you of their arrival. Another said if you try to cross against the light, you risk a fine. Another expat described traffic as "your biggest mortal threat" in terms of dangers in China.

Pedestrian safety in China

Even though you may be sick of the crowds at this point in your visit, crossing the street with a pack of people is probably the best way to stay safe as a pedestrian on the road. Never dart across the intersection alone, as bikes and cars can come from anywhere.

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