Driving in China

Traffic regulations, accidents

Driving in China

Understanding how traffic in China works will save you a lot of misunderstandings and accidents.

The Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China applies to all vehicles in China except military and often diplomatic vehicles, which are allowed to not follow any rules. These vehicles have white or sometimes blue licence plates.

In mainland China people drive on the right-hand side of the road. In Hong Kong and Macau they drive on the left. When there is no center line on the road, according to the rule, vehicles should drive in the center of the road. In case of two vehicles coming towards each other in opposite directions, both should move to their right.

There is a supplementary regulation to the Road Traffic Safety Law for uncommon occasions.

The International Driver’s permit is not officially accepted in China, but Chinese police do tend to accept it or its translation. However, in some parts of the country is illegal to use it and foreigners are often checked. Keep in mind that not having a Chinese driver’s license may lead to up to 14 days in prison.

Chinese roads often have cycle lanes, which are either separated from vehicle lanes by a solid white line, or by a curbed planted zone.

Characteristics of Chinese traffic

It is possible for cycle lanes to be blocked by parked cars or blocked by slow cyclists. In such cases you can go to the main road, especially if your bicycle moves faster than some of the motor vehicles there. when cycling on a lane and going across a junction you should look out for vehicles on the main road turning right.

According to the law, if you are cycling (or driving) in the middle of a road and the vehicle behind indicates that it wishes to overtake you should quickly and safely give way.

For a small fee you can lock your bicycle at assigned places where it will be looked after by attendants.

Because people drive on the right in China, right turns are simple, and are allowed even when a red light shows. Left turns are much more problematic. When turning left vehicles should wait for safe gaps in the traffic and cars traveling straight in the oncoming lane.

Be aware that, in China, it is not uncommon to move into the opposing traffic lane, when possible, to take a left turn. As a consequence, vehicles enter the road to the left on its left hand side before going to the right. This practice can cause huge inconvenience to other road users.

When nearing a junction, you should look out for vehicles that may be moving on the wrong side of the road or that might appear from random directions.

Driving in the center of the road is not unusual. If a vehicle is approaching on the wrong side of the road you should make way as far as possible, even if that requires stopping and pulling over all the way to the right hand edge of a cycle lane.

Roundabouts are vaguely explained in Chinese driving test preparation. At roundabouts in China only the vehicle that gets there first has priority, or if it is bigger, moves faster or has a specific purpose that gives it priority. It is recommended to stay on the outside of the roundabout.

Pedestrians in Chinese traffic

When stopping at a traffic light you should be careful for bigger or faster moving vehicles that need more time to stop, as well as for pedestrians who may try to cross the street in the last second, and not always in the right place. So even when the green light for automobiles in on, you should be cautious.

Many pedestrians prefer to walk on the road and vehicles use the pavement as a parking. Pedestrian streets do not allow bicycles, even when they are pushed.

Usually drivers don’t pay much attention to pedestrian crossings and people are often standing on a crossing, waiting for all the vehicles to pass.

Even with the green light on, a pedestrian should not completely rely on it, since traffic lights have been programmed to allow vehicles to cross when the pedestrian green light is on. So, before crossing the street you should look to your left and right, and make sure it is safe to cross.

In case of an accident, if you leave the scene you are a subject of serious penalty. If the accident was serious and requires the presence of the police you should call the traffic police at 122. 120 is the number for an ambulance and the fire brigade responds on 119. If someone is in danger, you are obliged by law to try and save them, but mark the initial position of anything you move during the rescue. Generally, you should try and preserve the original condition of the accident for the police and other related authorities.

Often after accidents the involved vehicles are left in the middle of the road and other participants in traffic should make their way around until the police arrive. If there are no serious personal injuries and the involved sides reach an agreement, it is possible to leave the place of the accident and proceed without involving the police.

Speed limits in China

The speed limit is different for the different types of roads:

  • 30 km/h (19 mph) on city roads with one lane per direction
  • 40-80 km/h (25-50 mph) on the National Highways
  • up to 70 km/h (43 mph) on bigger city roads (2-3 lanes or central reservation)
  • 100 km/h (62 mph) for city express roads
  • 120 km/h (75 mph) for expressways.

Even though there is a tolerance of about 10 km/h over the speed limits, you should not risk it and always follow the restrictions. There are two names for speeding detection devices: lei da ce su qu - radar speed check zone or qiao su she xiang - speeding detection camera.

If you are exceeding the speed limit you can be fined up to CNY200 for speeds over 10 km/h above the limit, but below 50% of it. If you are exceeding limits with over 50% of the area limit, you can be fined up to CNY2000.

Further reading

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