Saturday, April 08, 2006

Rules of the Road

Driving in China is, it would seem fairly likely, a topic that will crop up here regularly. The key reason for this can be summarised in this extract from the Wikipedia article on Chinese Rules of the Road.

"Compared to the western understanding of right-of-way, which refers to the legal right to proceed forward in a vehicle without fear of being found at fault for causing a collision, right-of-way in China means, for all intents and purposes, that the person who is in the way (first) has the right. In practice, this translates into motorists and cyclists turning or merging straight into the path of other traffic believing that the onus is on the other person to avoid a collision."

The above statement is absolutely true and it is the guiding principle of driving.

Changing Lanes - This is customarily achieved by getting your vehicle slightly ahead of the vehicle in front of the vehicle in the next lane and then just manoeuvering. No use of indicators or mirrors is required - in fact our company car driver tips the rear-view mirror up to the roof to get it out of the way. It has been explained by JM, as 'Schools of Fish' - a good analogy. If the car to your side moves, you have to move to accommodate it. Any problems you cause to the vehicle on your other side are entirely the problem of the car that's in the way.

Emerging at Junctions - I still haven't got this fully sussed but people routinely merge into the traffic flow by just emerging and hoping not to be hit. This even works if you are turning the other way and need to cross the other flow of traffic. Oddly enough this leads to a reasonable number of T-bone accidents.

Right Not To Be Killed - Cyclists are, without doubt, the bane of every car driver's life. They routinely exercise the fact that they believe you are not allowed to kill them as the means of getting around faster. This manifests itself in a variety of ways. Cyclists will emerge from side roads with no visibility straight across major roads with the traffic in full flow and not even put their hands on their brake levers they are that confident that you must not kill them. I have even been on motorways at full speed in complete darkness to find a mother and small daughter, in dark clothes, with no lights (these are also a given) cycling two-abreast towards is in the fast lane. I keep imagining that Darwinian evolution would have reduced the number of occurrences of this behaviour.

Conflict Resolution - Mini-gridlock situations are very common and routinely require the intervention of third parties to resolve them. For example, I have been walking past a nearby hotel and seen a situation where one car was trying to get out of the car-park and presumably got the the entrance just before a car who was trying to turn in. Neither car could move because the other was in the way. The situation then escalated because more cars arrived who wanted to get in. Pretty soon you had 10 cars trying to get in. The whole lane leading into the hotel was completely blocked with cars trying to turn into the hotel or get past them. Still there was the one car trying to get out, beeping furiously at the 25 cars before him to get out of his way because, of course, he was thre first. Eventually someone from the hotel appeared to demand that the bleeding obvious happened and he reverse out of the way.

I could go on. I've been caught (not when I've been driving) by gridlocks that only involve us and another car. My favourite being the five-minute stand-off with another driver when the only thing preventing progress was a small wicker basket. Eventually we were saved when someone moved it out of the way...

Zen-like Calm - The one problem I face constantly is that I get routinely riled up by the actions of other drivers because inside I expect people to drive as if we were in the UK. Now, I know that there's no point because the other driver won't have any thought that I am being inconvenienced in any way. I routinely see people getting cut up and forced to slam-on-the-anchors with nary a beep or a snarl or a gesture. The sort of thing that in the UK might see people storm out of their cars and drag the other driver through the window of their car - so it's certainly not all bad here!

So, time to go and hit the road...

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