Sunday, October 01, 2006

Driving in China

Although there are many traffic rules and regulations in China, and the roads are wide, well-surfaced and laned, the actual driving experience is pretty much total chaos. Cars are fairly recent and up until about 3 years ago everyone had bikes, so they drive like cyclists - very aggressively, and into any space they'll fit! It's pretty good fun getting an "insane" taxi driver who's more than happy to drive full pelt towards oncoming traffic (in their lane) just to skip past the queue. My favourite manouveur is crossing at a crossroads or t-junction when the lights are red, by driving over a pedestrian crossing.

It's also amazing how close people drive to each other! There's no concept of personal space, which seems fairly reasonable, after all, there are a lot of people here, and personal space isn't actually used for anything much, is it? It carries through into driving, where squeezing three cars into two lanes is completely normal, and undertaking a bus while going round a sharp corner only warrants praise.

Chinese drivers use the horn as one might use a bicycle bell - to warn people that you're approaching. Mirror usage is pretty much unheard of; listening for horns coming from behind is usually enough. As a consequence, the roads are noisy, but it's not people being angry, it's perfectly routine!

As in Italy, if you want to cross the road, or go in front of somebody, and they're not going too fast, just walk out. The chances are, you'll get beeped at, but never hit. Accidents are surprisingly rare, which leads me to think that the Chinese are, on the whole, very good drivers!

For a city that had almost no roads in 1990, Nanjing's developing hugely quickly. Roads with fewer than seven lanes are only marked as "minor" on the city map! Also, right, the traffic lights have this well good thing, where there's a big sign counting down the seconds until when the light changes. Not only does it tell you whether you need to brake for them, it stops people getting irate at lights that seem to be on forever, and gives you something to look at while you wait! This is still the best idea I've seen since I got here, it's just wicked, everybody should do it. China's infrastructure is so thoroughly well developed. They really plan their capacity too - there are many enormous roads leading to areas of nothing, where land has been zoned for future construction. There's a whole highway that's completely empty in the northeast of Nanjing, just lying in wait for when all the building work there is complete (most of the land isn't even sold yet!)

1 comment:

The Kayes said...

I would love to experience some of the intensity of no personal space that you talk about. (For a limited period anyway). Fascinating read!