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Show no fear: He (or she) who hesitates is lost
This is particularly true at intersections, where much to the fear and terror of anyone visiting China for the first time, the "left turn in front of oncoming traffic" is one of the most common, and yet totally illegal moves.
This happened so often I asked Yan Wenhui, the head of a driving school in Beijing, if I was mistaken and the move was something unique to China. " According to traffic regulations, vehicles that are turning should give way to vehicles going straight," he told me with a totally straight face - so much for that.
To carry this out successfully, the car making the left-hand turn must move quickly to cut in front of the oncoming traffic. Novice international drivers especially often make the glaring mistake of slowing down in fear, totally confused thinking they have the right of way (which they do); that will simply open the way for the entire line of traffic to make the left turn, while they're left at the traffic lights until it turns red.
Cross walks are safe for pedestrians – NOT
Try using the crosswalk on a busy Beijing road and you’ll end up ducking and weaving faster than Muhammad Ali. Again the rules are pretty clear –- the oncoming traffic must slow down, stop and give way to pedestrians, the reality is something completely different. There was a time a few years ago when I noticed drivers would stop for non-Chinese pedestrians, thinking that perhaps they were unaware of this unwritten rule, but that seems to have changed. Taxis and buses seem to be the worst offenders here, not only do they not stop, but they seem to accelerate, and head straight for you – or maybe I am feeling a little paranoid.
Bicycles, tricycles and rickshaws
Look out for these guys. There was once a time when China was the kingdom of bicycles -– and they’re not giving up the crown without a fight. Any accident involving someone pushing pedals, and the driver is toast. And boy do they relish their protected species status, pulling out, swerving and cutting in front with almost gay abandon.
Indicating is for wimps
OK, so it's getting a little better, but the bottom line is –- if you give any hint that you might want to change lanes, that just means the guy in the other lane is going to speed up to keep you out. Better to keep it a complete surprise.
Tailgating is standard
Make sure you follow as closely as possible to the guy in front. In the west we call this tailgating, in China, its called driving. Any gap, the smallest of space will be like a giant invitation for someone to cut in front.
Bottom line driving in China is all about making sure everyone else believes you’re not going to stop . . . don’t make eye contact, and keep plowing through. And for the record, I don’t drive.