Crossing the Street in China Safely
Even after 7 years, crossing the street in China sometimes felt like I was tempting fate. That’s not to say that it isn’t safe, but upon first arrival it can feel like an ordeal just crossing the roads. I remember seeing people just walk across without looking, or cars making turns from the right lane over 4 lanes of traffic at the last moment to make a left!
Eventually I got used to crossing the street in China and just accepted that was the way of life. But it made for some great stories.
The Chinese traffic poses a great risk to your safety and can even result in your death as well if you try meddling with it too much.
The roads in the country are almost always jam-packed with traffic (once took me 4hrs to travel 60 miles). Cars, trucks, cycles, bikes, rickshaw and taxi- you name the vehicle and you will see it on the road. Apart from the heavy traffic, another factor that makes walking on the roads extremely difficult is the lack of driving experience of the drivers.
The country had about 10 million vehicles during 2000. This number increased to 70 million in 2010, with more being bought each year. Most of the drivers on the roads of China are first-generation drivers. Most of them do not know the basics of driving. The country only has about 3 percent of the world’s drivers, but most of them are unaware of road systems.
Unfortunately, due to a lot of inexperiences, many drivers with fake licenses, not enough time on the road, has lead China to having one of the highest death rate in the world by car accident, something to keep in the back of your while while crossing the street in China.
To make sure that you don’t become a victim of these serious accidents, you need to be very careful while crossing the streets in China.
If you are a pedestrian, then you need to follow the rules set by the vehicles on the road. Follow these simple rules to ensure that you are able to cross the streets safely.
- Never Expect Cars to Stop: Yes, you must NEVER expect a single car to stop while you are attempting to cross a street. Drivers in China often run red lights, even several seconds after the red traffic light begins shining. Hence, you must always wait for all cars to pass before beginning to cross the road.
- Walk Slowly: Make sure to walk slowly while crossing the road. While crossing in a hurry, you can get hit by a fast paced car (or bicycle), so don’t hurry while crossing the road and be cautious.
- Look at Both the Sides of the Road: While stepping on the road, make sure to look at both sides to ensure that no vehicle is passing by. Once you are sure of this, you can start crossing the road.
- Use the Right Side of the Street: Though the law states that the vehicles should use the right side of the streets and roads, the right side is seldom seen packed with traffic. This is because the middle lane is quite safe to travel and slow-moving cars and pedestrians normally use the right side, so you should try using this side often.
- Let a Vehicle Overtake: If you hear a vehicle honking loudly, give it space to overtake you by moving to the right side.
- Beware of a Vehicle Turning Corners: According to the law, vehicles are allowed to take a right turn even when the red light is showing on the traffic signal (in many cities not all). So, if you see a turn, lookout for any vehicles waiting to use it and use it carefully.
- Be Extra Careful on the Roundabout: The roundabout is a very scary place to walk around. You’ll find the traffic cluttered around a roundabout on roads in the country. Hence, you need to be super careful while crossing the streets near a roundabout.
While I wouldn’t call it an art form crossing the street in China safely… it does take some time getting used too. In the major cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, you’ll see many more vehicles stopping at lights and obeying the laws. Many of these drives are professional trained by taxi companies and are fined if the customer complaints (if taking a taxi, always ask for a receipt. It has the correct total on it and the number to call if there was a problem).
You’ll see plenty of westerners crossing the streets as well and most get used to it after a while. While it sure is an experience, enjoy your trip, too!