China Trip #1 - Traffic and Driving in China
I am currently in Weifang (china) visiting my partner's parents and close relatives. While this is my second time in China, I still see this trip as my first real experience in the country. The last time I was here I spent most of my time in an office working.
For anyone that has travelled to an Asian country, the way people generally drive seems like chaos! And at times it appears as though traffic rules are a voluntary guideline. In comparison to the west, it would be easier for a foreigner in the country to proclaim that the drivers in China were worst than those in western nations.
Here's a lady trying to reverse into incoming traffic in her little electric car. She has bigger balls than I do :O
Truth be told, that is what I thought as well.. However, I have completely changed my mind. Yes, the traffic system is chaotic, there is no denying that, and a lot can be improved. As for the drivers, I would argue that they are likely better and more observant than most in Australia. They simply have to be!!
Let me explain. In Australia, the road and traffic light system have been designed to maximise the flow of traffic, and also make it as easy as possible for individuals to travel to point A to B with minimal need for any critical thought. The traffic light system are well designed and dynamic in nature, and road signs and markings are generally very clear, making it obvious what the correct decision should be in most situations.
When you are driving in China, these traffic systems are not yet as developed as they could be. They are certainly improving at a rapid pace, but still have a fair way to go, particularly in the more rural areas.
A driver in China has to pay attention to traffic in all directions, but also to the hundreds of car horns that could be blaring at any one time. Unlike Australia, in China the car horn is often used as a form of signalling. It is often used to tell other nearby cars of their presence, and I have seen it used often by cars wishing to overtake us in very tight spots, and at complex intersections where the correct direction of travel seems non-existent.
Unlike Australia, traffic is not predictable in China. People are constantly making traffic decisions that follow no clearly defined set of rules other than they need to travel in that direction. As a driver in China, you can't just switch off and follow the flow. If you did, you would never get anywhere in a timely fashion.
It is easy to pass judgement and say the chinese are terrible drivers.. We forget that often, a lot of how people behave and react is a result of the environment and systems that they have to live in. If we evaluate them based on the system and environmental constraints they have to drive in, they are surprisingly skilled, and I am astonished that there are not more car accidents.
If google ever wanted to accelerate the development of their self-driving car AI, conquering the roads in China would be a great start.
TLDR: How a group of people drive is likely a result of how their system is designed (obvious I know). If you want to change how people behave, change the environment and system they live in.