Smash-ups, not traffic rules, dominate China’s packed roads

Colleen Kaman By Colleen Kaman

In simpler days, millions of Chinese got around by bicycle. Roads were safer then.

A huge increase in inexperienced drivers is making China’s chaotic, anything-goes roads even more dangerous. In 2010, for instance, 3.9 million road accidents killed more than 65,000 people in China.

Rush hour along a main road in central Beijing. (Reuters/David Gray)

The accidents happen even though Chinese law requires citizens to attend a driving school. Thousands of schools have sprung up, churning out licensed drivers. There were 236 million licensed drivers in 2011.

Chinese driver training is a lot like that in America — navigating around roadblocks and practicing parallel parking, passing a written test. In other words, nothing that compares to actually driving through Beijing.

During the final hours of instruction, trainees are subjected to real driving conditions. In a story in The Globe and Mail, a Beijing driver hurled curses at a student driver. In response the trainee’s instructor said, “If he dares get out of his vehicle, I would definitely teach him a good lesson.” He continued, “now remember, you don’t cross the line into others, but if someone else crosses into yours, you must fight back.”

Once this student driver earns his license, what will he drive? Foreign-origin brands manufactured in China make up the majority of sales in the world’s largest car market. Of these, Buick is the best-seller.

But newly affluent Chinese like imported cars. Audis are the definitive brand of choice, for bureaucrats exuding authority and, for some, the “whiff of corruption.” According to a taxi driver quoted in the New York Times, “it’s always best to yield to an Audi — you never know who you’re messing with, but chances are it’s someone self-important.”


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