Traffic Chaos in China: What Travelers Need to Know

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Tackling the traffic in China is a challenge. Here's how to navigate it safely if you plan on driving or taking a road trip around China.


Traffic in Beijing Photo © Getty Images/Wenjie Dong

TRAVEL ALERT: The World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency on January 30 2020 due to Coronavirus, which originally emerged in Wuhan, China.

According to WHO, more than 700 people are killed in road accidents across China every day. This is what you need to know about safety on the roads.

New drivers in China

Part of the problem is that many Chinese didn‘t drive until the 1990s. There was a massive increase in the number of passenger vehicles on the road from 10 million in 2000 to 70 million in 2010, however, the average Chinese driver has fewer than five years‘ experience.

Many drivers are unlicensed and those who do have permits are not required 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 the one you're in barrels down the road.

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

Seatbelts are not always installed in vehicles and even if they are, are rarely worn, not even by children.

If you do get into a traffic accident, don‘t lose your cool, and stay where you are until the police arrive. Things can get out of control easily and a crowd will 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. Locals might bargain over costs owed for damages at an accident scene.

Cyclist disobedience in China

It‘s not just powered vehicles you should look out for; Chinese cyclists can be just as dangerous. 

It‘s common to see a pack of cyclists flying through a red light or turning across pedestrian crossings. Some cyclists will scream at you to get you out of their way.

Many Chinese pile their bikes high with boxes of produce and other wares. Colliding with one of these could lead to serious injury.

Pedestrian safety in China

Crossing the street with a pack of people is probably the best way to stay safe as a pedestrian; never dart across the intersection alone, as bikes and cars can come from anywhere.

Most drivers honk horns or ring bike bells to alert you of their arrival. If you try to cross against the light, you risk a fine. 

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