Expect the Unexpected: Roads and Traffic in China

If you have ever experienced tough traffic conditions, it is best you are aware of how much worse traffic in China is and how this might affect your next trip. Knowing the Chinese way of driving may not necessarily ensure a pleasurable ride, but at least you will be safer on the roads.

Characteristics of Chinese traffic

In China, vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road. Neighbor Special Economic Areas such as Hong Kong and Macau drive on the left. Traffic is strongly related to both social and economic development in a country. In China the development of the economy has been very fast in the past 30 years and this is still continuing. The transport infrastructure and traffic show a similar pattern.

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China is a nation of new drivers, and the transition has been so rapid that many road patterns come directly from pedestrian life, but these misbehaviours brought straight from the sidewalks to the roads can be very dangerous when vehicles are involved. These are some of the situations you may witness on the road during your next trip to China:

  1. Chinese drivers rarely use indicators to show where they are intending to go.
  2. When a driver misses an exit on a highway, the procedures goes as follows: pull onto the wayside, shift in reverse, get it right the second time.
  3. Drivers will cut the corners even few centimeters in front of an oncoming traffic.
  4. It is normal to turn right from the left lane on a 3-lane road cutting in front of all the other cars.
  5. If drivers are involved in an accident, they will call the police. Vehicles are left in position until the police arrive. This often causes traffic jams and a long waiting time on the bus or any other public transport you are using.
Traffic jam in China

Source: China-Mike

Unavoidable traffic jams

Traffic jams are a hot issue all over the country. You should definitely count on longer trip times  due to the traffic jams. A tight schedule is not a good idea in a country where you could easily find yourself in this kind of scenario.

These are some of the factors that might have led China into this situation:

  • Every driver thinks they are the most important and will not wait a split second to let someone through, even if it unblocked the road for everyone.
  • Some of the cities were not designed for cars.
  • China’s roads are full of new drivers.
  • China’s driver education is not as good as it should be.
  • In China, cars are considered a status symbol, so people use them even if it is better to use another mode of transport.

It is hard to say how to avoid traffic jams in China because they happen everywhere at anytime, but you should definitely consider to avoid travelling during Chinese public holidays.

Tips for pedestrians

In big cities it is easier to find drivers respecting road signs, however when traveling to rural areas of China, you will find drivers that do not pay much attention to existing traffic laws and signs. Stay safe while walking , avoid standing near the curbs. Try to use designated crossing areas at all times, and even there be extra careful.

Pedestrians in China

In China car drivers do not always give the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the street, it is strongly recommended to proceed with caution. You might also come across cars driving recklessly at night without any lights. Also, Scooters and bikes driving in the wrong direction on a daily basis in China.

Local affordable transports

It is important to know that visitors and tourists are not allowed to drive in China. Only foreign nationals with a valid residence permit may drive in China after passing a driving exam. But don’t worry, there are still many other ways to zip around the city.


When visiting big cities in China underground or the light rail train will be the fastest, cheapest and most efficient choice. Metro networks can be found in a number of cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Kunming, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.


Taxis are a quick and convenient way to reach your destination. Taxi prices vary from city to city, but affordable in all cases. If you can’t find a taxi standing zone or the city doesn’t have it, try a side road to signal a taxi. Note that very few taxi drivers speak English. In most cities taxi drivers use taximeters but there are still a number of places where you need to negotiate the price before setting off.


Buses may be the best deal, as cheap as 1 or 2 yuan per ride, although not the fastest and easiest for visitors. Traffic can make your way endless while taking an urban bus and navigation might be a headache for non-Chinese speakers as bus stops are mostly listed in Chinese without Pinyin.

Motor pedicab,  tricycles and motorbikes.

Many people will offer you a lift on one of these, remember to negotiate in advance to avoid being overcharged. This is a better choice once you are a bit familiar with the surroundings . You also need to know that these are not very safe, drivers rarely offer you a helmet and often drive like it was their last day.


Self-balancing vehicles banned in major cities

If you are one of those Segway Sightseeing Tour lovers here there is a bad new for you.

Beijing among other major cities such as Shanghai, Chongqing and Wuhan, have recently released announcements prohibiting electric self-balancing scooters and electric skateboards on the roads.


If you still decide to rent one, in an accident, riders will be liable to pay for repairs and damage caused to others, even if the fault was on the other side.

The most important lesson to take away here is to be extra careful on the roads in China

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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