By on November 27, 2007

china.jpgAs a Conde Nast Traveler writer, I drive all over the world. After reading Peter Hessler’s article in the November 26 issue of The New Yorker, I think I’ll give China a miss. Hessler’s adventure began at a Chinese driving school, where instructors teach drivers to start in second gear (first is too easy). The preferred clutch technique? Set the parking brake hard, shift into first, and let out the clutch whilst gunning the engine. “By the end of the day, you could have fried an egg on the hood,” Hessler reports. The writer passed his Chinese driving test by slowly driving 50 yards down a deserted street. Later, a Chinese friend banged-up Hessler's Jetta because he didn’t realize that the vehicle extended beyond the windshield. A Chinese passenger usurped the rear view mirror. “I’ll tell you what’s behind you,” he assured. On the road, headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals are almost never used; they’re considered a “distraction.” There’s lots more, but we now know why China accounts for three percent of the world’s cars– yet racks-up 21 percent of its traffic fatalities. They can’t drive.

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24 Comments on “Chinese Drivers Suck...”


  • avatar
    AKM

    Pretty scary…
    Not to mention that the concept of face does not help the Chinese to correct their mistakes for such a manhood-charged activity as driving…and that most of the cars are P.O.S. to begin with.

  • avatar
    tentacles

    I think this may be a fairly recent development characteristic of the rapid increase in the number of private cars, and the driving school in question probably belongs in the same league as those plants cranking our date-rape beads.

    According to of my older relatives who learned to drive in China 10 or 20 years ago, getting a driver’s license in China was a fairly involved process, and the amount of education required considerable, extending to subjects such as the basic operating principles of various vehicle subsystems and minor preventative maintanance.

  • avatar
    kkop

    I guess Peter Hessler has never taken the test in Georgia (the state just above Florida, not the country).

    The driving test is not much more complicated than the one in China: forward, reverse, parallel park, slalom; all of this in a closed off parking lot BTW.

    After that: You’re good to go!

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    kkop Try competing with the Chinese drivers here in Georgia. I take my life in my hands every time I ride my motorcycle, piss poor drivers everywhere. I’m a trasplant got my license in Florida.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    My wife (an ex-Brit) got her first US drivers license in Arkansas when I went there to go to college. I’d backed into the parking space. She came out with the “examiner”, hopped in, he got in, he instructed her to drive out of the parking lot, turn right (deserted side road), go down to a parking lot, turn in, circle, drive back, drive into the same parking space. No reversing, no nothing.

    My wife, however, is an excellent driver. I taught her well because I wanted her to stay alive.

    Now the British test… THAT’S incredibly difficult. 56% fail the initial driving test, 70% fail subsequent retests, 70% fail the re-retests, etc. Driving competency is light-years better than Michigan, and that is the only reason that I can see the difference.

    I strongly suspect that China “used to” have a very strict driving school regimen, but “relaxed” their standards (i.e. anyone can now drive, and 21% of the global deaths are now attributed to 3% of the drivers).

    As for visiting China, not for me, thanks.

  • avatar

    Whenever I go to ND I see all these 14 1/2 and 15 year old kids driving all over, it drives me bonkers. Seriously, these are middle schoolers… I wonder what the driving age is in China.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Here in Florida all you need is a pulse and any junk car that can travel to the DMV under its own steam. I went for my drivers license in a 93′ Taurus SHO with none of the electricals working. The instructer wasn’t phased by the lack of indicators, break light or anything – we did a lap of the back parking lot and he passed me without muttering a word.

    That’s why Florida drivers are much like Chinese drivers.

  • avatar
    Chaser

    I live in NC and I too can vouch for the horrible GA drivers. Much worse than the stereotypical FL driver, in my opinion.

  • avatar
    KBW

    The massive number of deaths in China is likely due to the explosion of cheap cars there. The infrastructure is simply not there to support such a large number of cars. Many of the roads are narrow as hell with no shoulder lined with potholes large enough to swallow your car. That coupled with the insanely unsafe trucks they have there guarantees a high rate of fatalities. The truckers there like to leave their lights off at night to save fuel and drive with their vehicles dangerously overloaded. Its always great to drive down the highway at 70 and find a truck doing 30 right in front of you. The back bumper is at a perfect height to take your head right off.

  • avatar

    Chaser : I live in NC and I too can vouch for the horrible GA drivers. Much worse than the stereotypical FL driver, in my opinion. You should live in the Atlanta metro area and get to experience them up close and personal on a daily basis.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    You don’t need to go to China.

    JUST COME TO RICHMOND, B.C.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    Whether in China, Canada, or Georgia….always remember Grandpa’s Advice
    .
    .
    http://cdbaby.com/mp3lofi/adiegrey2-07.m3u

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    carguy When I took my test in Florida 16 years ago the instuctor checked the car over like it was a New York vehical inspection, lights signals seatbelts the works. The test was a joke mostly in a parking lot with about 100 feet on a real street. But he insited on taking 5 points off for not being perfectly straight when I parked, I don’t know how much more straight I could have made it.
    The motorcycle exam I took in Kentucky several years back was a different story. That was a challenging test, more people should be required to take that just to improve there basic car driving skills. When you think from a 2 wheeled perspective you drive a car with new respect.

    Frank you shouldn’t wish that on anyone. It is a fate worse than death, and sometimes death IS your fate in Atlanta traffic.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    The ultimate road test is the Japanese test for 750cc motorcycles, which includes a teeter-totter and a balance beam and has an insanely high failure rate, plus a written test on par with a CPA exam.

    New York’s motorcycle test was reasonable, ride a little on some side streets, then circles and figure 8s in a dead end, so you had to have good machine control and some clue. That said the best option would be a serious training class and realistic testing like the MSF classes, although I am of two minds about Oregon’s system of granting a motorcycle license based on completing the class in a parking lot.

  • avatar
    casper00

    what does chinese driving habits and style in china has to do with use…we have more problems of our own, in the states we see dog driving, pigs driving, cat driving and little kids driving….but it’s ok we’re the united states and we’re better then everyone else….oh please…..and i’ve been to florida and georgia….don’t even want to start….

  • avatar
    Von

    Actually, considering the complete lack of respect for the rules and conventions of the road as we know it in the US, Chinese drivers are surprisingly good just by the mere fact that there aren’t even more accidents.

    I was there just last month, my co-workers and I were scared shitless in the first hour, the front passenger’s head came within a foot of the rear bumper of trucks on several occasions, the driver goes headlong into on-coming traffic when turning left or just passing, and we even passed cops, left of what would’ve been the double yellow lines, only there are no markings on the road. The driver didn’t even flinch about any of it, and they are all like that. Then we got used to it and even started taking videos with our digital cameras so we can show it off back at the office. In three weeks there over two trips, we never saw an accident. So like I said, pretty amazing considering all the stunts they pull.

    Besides, it’s only slightly worse than NYC, but I guess if you are like me and don’t think NYC is too bad…

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    If I hadn’t taken the MSF course I would have been a red stain on the highway by now. I highly recommend anyone interested in riding take it, it may save your life one day or several times a day if you live around here.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Thank you for including this article on Toronto and Vancouver.

  • avatar
    Qusus

    The thing that makes the drivers in China worse than anywhere else is the culture.

    The culture PROMOTES poor driving habits, stuff like not signaling and swerving around in traffic.

    Even if there are truly terrible drivers in America, they’re terrible for their own individual reasons. It’s not that we consciously teach them these bad habits.

    China is truly a pistonhead’s nightmare. It’ll make the even the most hardcore among us disavow owning a car and simply taking Taxi’s around.

  • avatar
    jolo

    Von wrote:

    Actually, considering the complete lack of respect for the rules and conventions of the road as we know it in the US, Chinese drivers are surprisingly good just by the mere fact that there aren’t even more accidents.

    I was there just last month, my co-workers and I were scared shitless in the first hour, the front passenger’s head came within a foot of the rear bumper of trucks on several occasions, the driver goes headlong into on-coming traffic when turning left or just passing, and we even passed cops, left of what would’ve been the double yellow lines, only there are no markings on the road. The driver didn’t even flinch about any of it, and they are all like that. Then we got used to it and even started taking videos with our digital cameras so we can show it off back at the office. In three weeks there over two trips, we never saw an accident. So like I said, pretty amazing considering all the stunts they pull.

    What I found interesting when I was stationed in Korea in the ’70s was that they too were not good drivers, but they were skilled drivers. There’s a difference. The main roads were terrible and narrow, but they always got from base to the cities (and back) in one piece. They could weave in and out and get close to another car and aside from a few choice words and an occasional one finger salute, there were never any accidents and we took taxis everywhere.

    Anybody been there recently? How are their skills these days? Are they better at being considerate on the road?

  • avatar

    when I was in China, par for the course was the left hand turn from the far far right lane (across 3-4 other lanes of traffic)

    No signal required.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    he truckers there like to leave their lights off at night to save fuel
    Weird. They do this in South America too. Guess it shows how cheap life is.

    Driving in Asia is an “experience”. What does amaze me is how few accidents you see considering how people drive there. Every minute you witness the most amazing stunts that would, back in the US, cause a 20 car pile up.

    I can’t help but think that Asian and Middle East drivers have lowered expectations of their fellow drivers. And they respond accordingly. It is a different mindset. They expect the others to do stupid things.

    It could be worse. Drive in India. They drive like maniacs on unsafe roads. But if you cause an fatality, you the driver stand a good chance of being pulled from the car and either killed or seriously injured by pissed off pedestrians.

  • avatar
    BerettaGTZ

    yankinowaz:

    You are absolutely correct. It takes a different mindset. I lived and drove in China for 3 years and am alive to tell about it. You have to think of traffic flow like the red blood cells circulating through your arteries. Your body does not have stop signs or traffic lights. The blood cells just merge into whatever available space they can find in the busy flow of things. It takes a lot of guts to pull out in front of a car or cut someone off in the next lane, but in most cases they will slow down for you and road rage is pretty nonexistent. And as you said, you expect the guy in front of you to stop suddenly or swerve across 3 lanes, so you plan accordingly.

    A few things are actually good about Chinese drivers: they do not eat, drink, read, put on makeup, or yak on the cell phone while driving. To do so invites certain disaster.

    Interestingly, I’ve spoken to more than a few Chinese who’ve traveled to the US for business. They are absolutely terrified of driving on our roads.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    I agree. I can’t tell you how many Aussies I’ve met that refuse to even consider driving in LA. They find it very intimidating. Why? I have no idea. I tell them it is very easy… freeways most everywhere. Just pay attention to the signs and you can’t get lost.

    Strange how other people think our roads are scary.

    Of course the news reports of having guns pulled on you get lots of play overseas.


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