Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Taxi anyone?

The first thing you must understand is that very few westerners drive in China. There are a good number of reasons for this, some obvious and some – not so obvious.

The obvious ones are easy for any visitor to see on arrival - the general lack of driver discipline, the complete disregard for any legal system, and the visitors inability to read the road signs, all add together to form a fairly compelling case against driving here.

Then there are as many un-obvious reasons that go against any desire to venture out onto the open road? The difficulty in obtaining a local license, the complicated insurance system, the lack of a vehicle rental service, and even the ability to fuel the vehicle can be extremely difficult in a country where you don’t speak the language or understand the local customs. It all adds up to being something that most foreigners decide that they would rather not delve into.

I believe is what the Chinese prefer. It keeps us strange foreigners off the road, promotes a very healthy Taxi, public transport and in particular - a lucrative chauffeurs service.
The majority (80%+) of ex-patriot inhabitants of China indulge in the services of a chauffeur driven vehicle. Usually a large 7-seat people carrier, complete with DVD players in the headrests, blackout windows and multi-zone air-conditioning. Top of the picks is the Buick GLB, in any colour you like, as long as its dark blue!

They provide everything from the school run, to ensuring the busy joint venture executive gets to his next lunch, or dinner appointment, but most Importantly they provide the lady of the household the transport she need’s to enjoy her spa morning’s, banquet lunch’s, margarita afternoons, and of course the obligatory shopping day’s.

In a country where labour is so cheap, the use of hired help becomes normal, rather than just the indulgence of the rich and famous. Drivers, maids, gardeners even personal coaches are written into most people’s contracts. Like some lost forgotten British colony, China still pampers to those who, well wish to be pampered.

For my family and me life is quite different, I wasn’t working for some enormous International conglomerate whose annual budget for a foreign worker would be circa $500k per annum. I was working for a state owned company who paid its workers an average of $6 - $10k a year, add to this a desire to add a sense of independence into our controlled lives – it was clear that I would have to go through the pains of obtaining the right documentation and permissions in order to drive myself in China.
The story of how I actually gained my driving license is worth a chapter of its own, but for now lets just say I skimmed the edges of a few rules. Fortunately working for an automotive company helped when it came to finding a vehicle, however nothing could have helped me with actually driving here!

I could detail evidence from a years worth of driving on some of the worlds most dangerous roads, how I have encountered incredibly crazy and stupid maneuvers, list facts and figures issued by the World Health Organization showing just how many people die, here on the roads each year, and go into specifics of how to handle the unscrupulous forces that manage the roads. But again these findings are probably something best left, well until I have left (China).

What I have done, is listed the Top 10 of regular 'irritations' encountered on the roads around Nanjing (and anywhere else in China for that matter!)
In no particular order:

· 10% of Drivers Reversing against the flow of traffic – this can be seen particularly where drivers have missed the exit on a highway, and have to reverse against the oncoming traffic - traveling at over 100kph.

· 20% of drivers have held a license for less than 3 years, resulting in daily encounters with unsure, wary and inexperienced newcomers to this very aggressive environment.

· 30% of car’s and trucks driving without or obscured number plates – Yes I know I’m a fine one to talk!

· 40% of Motorists who completely ignore any of the road traffic laws, including traffic lights, parking rules, speed limits, road signs and warnings – and most of all, any kind of road manners.

· 50% of vehicles exceeding the speed limit – and the other 50% crawling along at half the speed limit in the fast lane of the highway – not sure which is the more dangerous, but you can guess which one causes more accidents in China!

· 60% of drivers like to occupy two lanes of any highway – straddling the white lines allows them to choose the clearest route if they find slower vehicles on their journey. Apparantly this is similar to the nations goverment policy - dodging between left and right, picking the most suitable at any point in time - but never commiting to one or the other!

· 70% of vehicles with the occupants not wearing seatbelts – made worse by the fact that you see dozens of children sitting on there parents laps – even when they are driving!

· 80% of motorists who never use indicators, door mirrors or rear view mirrors, they also like to drift from lane to lane without any warning.

· 90% of drivers, using their full beam headlights on permanently during the evening. Blinding the oncoming drivers and anyone who is unfortunate to be in front – oh and the other 10% drive with no lights at all – particularly Buses!

· 100% of Trucks overloaded, by both weight and by the pure volume of goods being transported. This is the biggest danger to all drivers on Chinese roads; they drive with at least twice the recommended weight on board, for hours that would scare the authorities in Europe! You regularly have to swerve to avoid spilled goods off trucks with enormous payloads, and every time you stop at a crossing you pray that the truck thundering towards your stationary car – still has the breaking performance to stop.

After all of that, its no wonder that I see at least one accident every day, admittedly the appalling traffic in the city, limits this to mostly slow speed ‘scratch’s’ – but out on the highway this results in some rather dramatic statistics - On average12 people die on the roads every hour, of every day. If you add to this the fact that 1 person every minute is seriously injured by motoring accidents it all amounts to a rather powerful argument against wanting to drive, and why maybe it is a good idea to hang up my MG7 keys and climb into the back of a trusty old Buick!
(By the way I have had a few comments about my poor grammar, and the lack of photos in my BLOGS - whilst I can improve the picture count - It will take a while to perfect the grammar!)


John Switzer said...


Why are you talking about taxis when you could be talking about Austin Healeys? :D

Looking forward to a blog about Healeys following today's encouraging news.



Anonymous said...


WarrenL said...

Ha! I saw the comments on your grammar and was wondering when or if you'd respond. I wouldn't worry, with the exception of a few crimes against the apostrophe you're well on your way to perfection, and besides, we don't come here for good grammar. We come for the inside line and interesting stories!

Keep up the great work.

Jack Yan said...

Fascinating entry, Paul; in fact, bloody scary! Is it true that stopping before a zebra crossing is not permitted in Red China?

John Switzer said...

Reference the 'No Straight Ahead, No Left Turn and No Right Turn' sign... could someone be in danger of travelling the 'Wrong-Wei' ;)

I'll get my coat...



Jack Yan said...

Too brilliant, John!

WarrenL said...

Actually Paul, and I think I may have mentioned it previously, it's not your grammar that's the problem. But the terrible English on the NAC MG website is...

And there are photos circulating supposedly of the new instrument pack in the TF. Please tell us those cheap and chintzy looking things aren't the real deal! Please!