Chinese Drivers are Bad in China and Toronto

Ten bad driving habits, by Chen Xin, People Daily, equally applicable here in Toronto, Canada

Ten bad driving habits, by Chen Xin, People Daily, equally applicable here in Toronto, Canada

As a lifelong resident of Toronto I can attest that many fellow Torontonians wonder out loud why Chinese drivers are so terrible. I am one of them. As I live in Scarborough, a heavily Chinese area of Toronto, there are certain major intersections that I avoid due to a very high proportion of Chinese drivers that approach 100%. As my ethnic background is Chinese, I have ruled out genetics. Moreover I know many Canadian born Chinese, or Huayi, that are excellent drivers. Further, anyone from Hong Kong can attest to the prowess of their local driving skill. So why are Chinese drivers so terrible?

If you have traveled to China you know that driving in China is terrible and very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

Beijing began a five-year action plan over the weekend aimed at cracking down on traffic violations and bad driving habits in a bid to ease the city’s worsening traffic situation.

Over the next five years, traffic police will crack down on drunk driving, running red lights, the illegal occupation of emergency lanes and bus lanes, driving without a license, and six other traffic violations. Bad driving habits, such as forcibly overtaking another vehicle and forcing it into another lane, will also be targeted.

Traffic in Beijing is horrible. I recall taking 45 minutes to travel 2 kms in a taxi. There are way too many cars on Beijing streets to travel efficiently. Still, cars that do move are dangerous. Traffic signals are ignored if there is no police on site. People park their cars everywhere, blocking whomever they wish. It seems that there is a blatant disregard for the safety and convenience of others. I suppose if you do not know someone else personally, you have no personal connection (guanxi), and therefore no need to be cordial.

I will not cite examples of bad driving practice that I have personally witnessed in China, as they are too numerous. And very scary. Suffice it to say that in trying to cross a busy Chinese street you may not make it to the other side uninjured.

We can only guess at the reasons why Chinese are terrible drivers.

  1. Driving is relatively new: Yes, in China the ability to drive is very new, only within the last 10 years. New drivers lack skill. That get a driver’s license from Hong Kong are excellent drivers, and those that fail migrate to Toronto and get an Ontario driver’s license. Many from Mainland China do not have a drivers license from China, so this is their first time driving here in Toronto.
  2. Driving is a status symbol: It seems like when Chinese migrate to Toronto from China one of their goals is to get the largest vehicle possible. Maybe this is to brag to those back in China that they are financially well off? Unfortunately these large vehicles are more difficult to drive. These new drives drive so poorly that they become a hazard to everyone else on the road.
  3. Driving rules are not enforced: This is true both in China and Toronto. Bad driving is applicable to all drivers here in Toronto. If police would enforce existing laws there would be better overall driving habits, but even the police break the laws.

No matter where you originate, here in Toronto Chinese drivers have a bad reputation as terrible drivers. Hopefully the next generation of young Chinese drivers will not follow their parents and grow up to be skilled and courteous drivers. Parents need to learn from their kids.

6 thoughts on “Chinese Drivers are Bad in China and Toronto

  1. Clara

    I went to China for the first time in the summer of 2009. Living in Toronto all my life, China was a big shock. I remember my boyfriend wouldn’t want me crossing the streets by myself because the drivers were so dangerous.

    I also remember thinking that many Canadian drivers couldn’t survive driving on Chinese roads. I think there’s a different skill set when driving in China. For instance, honking is a style of driving.

    I do think you’re right about the rule enforcement, though. I once saw a car driving in the wrong direction on the highway. The highway! :S

    I really knew I was back in Canada when I was crossing the street and saw a van driving toward me. I realized that I didn’t have to worry and that the van was going to stop before hitting me. It did. :)

    P.S. I also didn’t wear a seatbelt in China because that’s just not something you do. Haha

  2. dontai Post author

    Your reply let me recall the terror I first felt when I tried to cross the street in Beijing. I watched traffic for a good 5 minutes before deciding to snuggle up to a Grandma and crossing the street beside her. I figured that no car/bus would run over a Grandma. Only later I found out that yes, they do run over Grandmas!

    We returned for a trip to China in 2008 and found out some things do not change: traffic and rules! The biggest vehicle wins!

  3. günstige homepage

    Thanks a lot for sharing. You have done a brilliant job. Your article is truly relevant to my study at this moment, and I am really happy I discovered your website.Most of time i went to china and see many incident of drivers.

  4. spassmeister

    I have my own theory on the deplorable driving of some Chinese. I won’t begin to describe the all-too-numerous examples that simply defy belief…but I’d like to mention some types of situations that are very common. Anybody who has been driving in North America for many years (and also in Europe in 5 years in my case) has witnessed the common: too slow, wrong lanes, backing up on the freeway, running lights, no turn signals – ever,etc. or my favorite – simply stopping in the road when they make a mistake and making everybody weave around them.

    The root of this has to be in the fact that not only are 95% of these “newer” drivers, but, most likely (unlike most western countries) the fact that Chinese drivers didn’t grow up with cars at all – never in the back seat of their parents car, never being able to witness good and bad driving from a young age. The other reasons you have listed play a role as well. When I was in Shanghi last summer and would run 10 km each morning I learned that traffic lights are only a “suggestion”

  5. Victor

    Guys, they are bad drivers not only in China! Please come to New Zealand to see how it is. They signal to the right and turn to the left. When you see a Chinese driving just be prepared everything can happen. Cheers, Victor

  6. Dafydd

    I live in China and have a lovely Chinese friend whom I consider very civilised. However, she is an awful driver. She recently bought a new car and I have been in it three times so far.

    First time, she went up a dual carriageway (AmE divided highway) the wrong way against oncoming traffic twice. On the second occasion, I told her she was on the wrong side. I had always assumed that Chinese people did that just to rebel against the rules. However, I was quiet shocked when I discovered that she didn’t know she was on the wrong carriageway. So, she proceded to do a 3-point turn on the busy carriageway. An hour later, after we finished lunch, she reversed ehr car into the front of another parked vehicle and laughed about what she had done.

    Second time, she approached a multi-storey car park via the exit. I had already warned her it was the exit, but she went ahead nevertheless. Then, she needed to reverse out. This was an easy task since it was just a case of reversing staright back. However, sahe turned the steering wheel and ended up crashing the back of the car into a bollard which did damage the bumper. Then, she straightened up again, but still couldn’t reverse out. I felt like doing it for her, but I don’t have a Chinese licence. Therefore, she enetred the car park through the exit balsting her horn all the while. Her car is automatic. When we returned later, it wouldn’t start. So, i pointed out to her that the car wasn’t starting because she had it engaged in “Drive” and not “Neutral”.

    Third time, she hit a hard cone that divided lanes in a small car park and then proceeded to harass a slow-moving vehicle that was looking for a parking bay by blasting the horn non-stop behind it. Later, she didn’t see the kerbside on exit and there was a large thump as she descended over an elevated kerb.

    I wonder what will happen next time. I do not wish to make any predictions. However, differently from most other Chinese people, she does at least admit that she is an awful driver.

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