How to Cross the Road in China ... Safely
Traffic in China can be a nightmare for everyone, not just car drivers. Cyclists and pedestrians face their own challenges when it comes to Chinese roads and highways. There are also major differences in driving styles across China and throughout the cities and the countryside.
Though it is sometimes funny to watch what goes on on China’s roads, there are serious implications for safety. See people wandering off the curb onto the road without looking (or looking in the opposite direction to on-coming traffic!), and jaywalking everywhere but on the (often heavily obstructed) pedestrian sidewalk, sometimes carrying/pushing unwieldy articles.
What to Look Out For
You might come across scooters or cars driving in the wrong direction in a certain lane, or driving recklessly at night without any safety lights on. Crossing the road in China might seem like a free-for-all in comparison to crossing the road in the US. Here are some tips for crossing the road in China without getting injured or killed.
In cities, there is more traffic congestion, which can lead to people on bicycles or small scooters trying to drive around slow-moving cars. In addition, some larger vehicles might even try to get around the traffic jams.
For someone trying to cross the road in a place like Beijing, car drivers do not always give the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the street. Even though it is required by law for the car driver to proceed through intersections with caution, so that they avoid hitting someone, this is not the case in real life.
In rural areas of China, the roads might be less congested, but people driving on the roads might not pay much attention to road signs or to existing traffic laws. Use your common sense and try to use designated crossing areas if and when you can find them.
If you are in a very rural area, the roads might be of poor quality, and it may be hard to see approaching vehicles. In addition, if the roads are made of dirt or are damaged, it may be hard for vehicles to stop, and they may veer wildly around potholes. In these areas, only cross when you are certain that no cars are coming, and be very careful crossing these roads at night, since you cannot be sure that people will be able to spot you crossing the road.
Be a Good Pedestrian
Ultimately, when in doubt, you should look to see what local people do when they are crossing the road. Follow their example (if it’s a good one), and try to stick close to large groups of people. Always look both ways, and cross at an intersection whenever you can. If you see a driver speeding up to get through an intersection, don't try to beat them — wait for them to pass, then cross when you're certain that the road is clear.
Don't forget to be as good a pedestrian as you can be — in many provinces traffic police have started issuing fines to pedestrians for illegally crossing the street when there is no signal to walk. They do this for your safety as well as the safety of the drivers.
Crossing the street in China can be just as safe as crossing the street anywhere else in the world. As long as you remember some common-sense tips and keep aware of your surroundings, your experience as a pedestrian in China will be as safe as you can possibly make it.
I updated this article on October 14, 2013
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