Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Driving in Beijing

Aah, back beyond the Great Firewall so no more IT gynmastics and VPN's to get uncensored Internet.


One of the most dangerous things in the world is driving in China :). After dinner last night, I asked Sindy if I could drive back to her parents’ apartment (about 10 miles). Since it was a holiday, there was not much traffic on the road; there’s no way I’d attempt this in normal Beijing traffic. From Guomao, I took the 3rd Ring Road south then west and then exited on You'anmen Outer Street. Sindy’s car is not available in the US but it’s pretty similar to a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. I was nervous since China does not accept driver’s licenses from other jurisdictions so I was pretty much driving illegally. Luckily nothing happened though I almost got hit by a speeding taxi right after leaving the restaurant.

A couple of quick observations. 1) I kept getting freaked out by my peripheral vision. When I drive in California, most people are good about following rules. In China however, people and vehicles make moves that I don’t expect and I’m always on edge trying to figure out what they’re doing. For example, pedestrians and opposing traffic get real close to your lane of travel so I’m always reacting to something. They may see me and plan to give me the right of way but just seeing cars and people encroaching makes me nervous. 2) There’s a real lack of street lighting everywhere. It was already dark when I drove back and I could hardly see anything, even at major intersections. 3) People like to walk in the road instead of on the sidewalk, probably because there are lots of bikes, scooters, and cars blocking the sidewalk. It was much harder to drive on the small streets versus the wide ring roads since there are so many distractions. 4) Pedestrians and two-wheeled vehicles seem to have no regard for traffic signals so even though I have the green light at an intersection, there is always something running the red light.

Actually, most people seem to drive okay but I see two groups of drivers that makes things exciting and dangerous. Since the car culture is pretty new, there are a lot of first time drivers that have zero experience with cars and driving etiquette. Even though I didn’t drive until I was sixteen, I’ve been riding in cars for many years by the time I got my license. This may not be true for many Chinese people. So one dangerous group of drivers are those that are oblivious to their surroundings. Usually they drive too slow and don’t follow any lane markings, forcing other drivers to maneuver around them. Then there’s the opposite group of hyper-aggressive drivers that are constantly changing lanes and cutting people off. Add vehicles with military plates (who don’t have to obey traffic rules) and lots of pedestrians to the mix, the result is total chaos.

Sindy's driving skills is actually pretty aggressive. She likes to change lanes constantly and honks her horn a lot. After I told her I used my horn in the US about once per year, she's been trying to cut back.

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