Now I hope you’ll read past the headline before leaving angry comments. You’ll see that my reasons have nothing to do with genetics or race and everything to do with culture. After all, driving is so dangerous/crazy/nerve rattling that Beijing has come out with a 5-year plan to improve “driving manners.”
I have a few theories as to why these problems flourish in China, and I think there is some truth in each of them. But first let’s just clear up any doubt that drivers in China are awful.
1. Driving is relatively new
My first theory is that most of the drivers on the road are new drivers. In 2010 China sold 13 million new cars (close to 650,000 of those were in Beijing). That means roughly 10% of Beijing’s drivers are new drivers, you can imagine the mess that creates. Some experts estimate that 1 minute of stopped traffic can lead to 1km of backed-up traffic in Beijing, so you can see how a nervous left-turner could be a big problem.
This stems from the fact that until the last 5-10 years cars were unavailable to most people, so few bothered learning how to drive. In other countries people grow up watching their parents drive, and by the time we get behind the wheel we have an idea of what driving should look like. In China it’s all new.
2. Driving is a status symbol
This theory ties back into my first point, that private cars are a relatively new thing. Until 2000 or so having a car meant you were part of the elite. So this idea of entitlement seems to be lingering in the drivers’ imaginations, even though owning a car is now a must for establishing yourself as middle class.
I like this theory more and more every time a car honks at me to get out of his way while they are driving on the sidewalk (yes, this happens weekly). After all, even the worst driver knows that the sidewalk isn’t for them.
3. Driving rules aren’t enforced
Since I don’t drive in China (partially due to desire to live), I didn’t notice this one right away, but after watching people cruise through the red light in front of my apartment for a year it became clear. Traffic laws aren’t enforced by the traffic police, at all.
When I drive in the US I follow the traffic rules more out of my fear of tickets than out of respect for the law, and I’m guessing that’s true for most of you too. It’s no wonder that people only follow the laws when there are traffic cameras.
Side note of Awesome: In Lanzhou a retired school teacher decided to teach bad drivers a lesson and threw bricks at cars that did not yield to pedestrians.
Apparently a few other elderly men joined him, while onlookers rushed to get them more bricks and food (to keep up their throwing strength). The men damaged 30 cars before police stopped them. They have become internet heroes here.