Traffic and Road Conditions in China

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions

While in China, you will encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Rules, regulations, and conditions vary greatly throughout China, but a general rule of thumb is that traffic safety is poor, and driving in China can be dangerous.

Traffic is chaotic and largely unregulated, and right-of-way and other courtesies are usually ignored. The average Chinese driver has fewer than five years of experience behind the wheel and the rate of traffic accidents in China, including fatal accidents, is among the highest in the world. Cars, bicycles, motorbikes, trucks, and buses often treat road signs and signals as advisory rather than mandatory. Pedestrians never have the right of way, and you should always be careful while traveling in, or even walking near, traffic. Child safety seats are not widely available in China, and most taxis and other cars do not have seat belts in the back seats. Motorcycle and bicycle accidents are frequent and often serious. If you decide to ride a bike or motorcycle, wear a helmet.

You may not drive in China using your U.S. driver's license or an international license. If you have a resident permit, you can apply for a PRC driver's license, although regulations for obtaining a license vary from province to province. Liability issues and the difficulty of passing the driver's test may make it preferable to employ a local driver.

If you are involved in a traffic accident, stay calm; road altercations sometimes turn violent quickly. The safest course is to call the police and wait for them. Even minor traffic accidents can become major public dramas. In some instances, bystanders have surrounded accident scenes and nominated themselves to be an ad hoc jury. The parties involved in an accident may offer money to the crowd in exchange for favorable consideration. If there are no injuries and damage is minimal, the parties often come to an agreement on the spot. If no agreement is reached and the police are called, the police may mediate or conduct an on-site investigation requiring those involved to come to the police station to sign statements. Unresolved disputes are handled by the courts. In cases where there are injuries, the driver whose vehicle is determined to have inflicted the injury will often be held at least partially liable for the injured person's medical costs regardless of actual responsibility for the accident. Many foreigners have been involved in incidents where the victims appear to have purposely caused accidents and claimed to have been injured in order to get payment for their supposed damages and medical care. When foreigners are involved in an accident, the police will sometimes hold their passports until the other parties are satisfied with the compensation they receive.


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