Driving through China can be a great deal of fun and there is no doubt that you will be able to experience a host of unique attractions. However, we also need to keep in mind that this is a foreign country. While some rules are likely to appear familiar, other scenarios can be somewhat confusing to those who are new to the region. Let us take a look at some general guidelines as well as a handful of expert suggestions intended to provide you with the knowledge needed to prepare well in advance for what is in store.
If you are planning to drive to China, it is only logical to begin by examining licencing requirements. As a general rule of thumb, anyone with a valid driver’s licence is able to operate a motor vehicle in China. It is best to obtain a temporary permit during your stay. The good news is that you can take a short examination and be provided with a licence on the same day. There are still several requirements which must be met in advance. The most pertinent documents to bring along include:
It should be noted that the examination consists of 100 multiple choice questions and 90 per cent must be answered correctly. A syllabus of the test can be found here. However, there are many cases when those who already possess a foreign licence will be excused from the test itself. Private tutors are available and you can also employ the services of a translator for a small one-time fee. There are likewise a host of driving schools in major cities such as Beijing and Shenzen, so obtaining the necessary skills is generally feasible within a short period of time. You can also choose to obtain a professional driver’s licence at Terminal 3 within Beijing International Airport.
We must also point out that the driving laws can also very from region to region. For example, there can be situations when the driver does not necessarily need to possess a licence. This is under the assumption that someone else in the car nonetheless has valid Chinese certification. On a final note, licences from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan are not legal within China. In these situations, you will need to obtain a temporary licence via the means mentioned above.
Traffic flows on the right-hand side of the motorway in China (other regions such as Hong Kong are associated with left-hand driving rules). While this is normal for those travelling from Europe or the United States, those arriving from the United Kingdom may require a bit of time to adjust.
Another issue involves coming to a full stop at red lights. While this is indeed a regulation, it is frequently ignored; particularly by governmental or military vehicles. However, it is not uncommon for average citizens to continue driving or slow down only slightly even when a light is red. It is therefore wise to always pay attention to any nearby motorists if you come across a traffic light at an intersection.
In the same respect, there are various speed limits throughout China. This will largely depend upon where you are driving as well as if you are travelling through urban as opposed to rural settings. Here is a breakdown of the rules:
Most motorways will provide you with a tolerance of 10 kilometres an hour (either above or below the limit). However, those choosing to drive 15 miles per hour or more above this threshold risk a penalty. This is important to note, as there are many speed traps and radar stations along major highways. In other words, it pays to drive to China by understanding the speed limits associated with a specific region. Those who happen to violate the rules mentioned above can be fined as follows:
One of the most interesting aspects of China involves the varying conditions of its roads and motorways. You are likely to notice a profound change when travelling between different provinces due to the fact that some are funded more than others. Depending upon where you are travelling, you may also encounter other challenges such as bicyclists, pedestrians, street vendors, and even carts pulled by animals. This is why it is always important to carefully watch where you are driving and if possible, to avoid the shoulder of the road in question.
Traffic can often be congested; particularly within large cities such as Beijing. As a result, minor accidents are not often taken seriously by other drivers. If you happen to be involved in such a situation, most drivers will accept between 100 and 200 yuan and simply move on. Of course, major incidents need to be reported to the local police.
As a general rule of thumb, larger roads (such as motorways and national expressways) are properly maintained and many will contain signs in English as well as Chinese. Service stations, emergency facilities and petrol stations can be found at regular intervals; similar to other parts of the world. Still, more rural routes may lack such amenities entirely. If you are planning to take a cross-country journey which encompasses such roads, be sure to plan ahead for any eventualities.
Driving through China will always involve taking safety into account. It needs to be mentioned that some Chinese drivers can be quite aggressive; issues such as being cut off are quite normal. Furthermore, there are nearly four times as many accidents through China when compared to the European Union. This is largely due to the sheer number of drivers on the open road. Always remember that you are a foreigner when driving in China. Try to be courteous and cognisant at all times. This will help to ensure a smooth and pleasant journey.
As we can see, there are a number of unique factors to take into account if you are planning a road trip in China. The good news is that obtaining a temporary licence is rather straightforward and many of the rules are similar. Still, never forget that driving in any country involves personal responsibility and an appreciation for other motorists. Please feel free to refer back to the information mentioned above for future reference. Finally, be sure to contact the appropriate authorities if you have additional questions.