Most people have a shock when they are faced with the traffic in China. Tackling it on food is bad enough, so the idea of actually driving in China is close to suicide…or isn’t it?
First of all, you cannot use your international driver’s license in China. To drive you need a local license. Since that’s not something to consider getting, there is a simple way around it. Travel to Hong Kong and get a local drivers license based on your international one. That costs about US$120. Then travel to a major city in mainland China and exchange the Hong Kong license for a provisional Chinese driver’s license.
A really simple way around it is to rent an e-bike or a scooter. Both are treated as bicycles (at least in some towns) and they do not require a license.
Renting a car in China
Hertz is one of the major car rental companies which are present in China. Please note that they offer “self-drive” cars and chauffeur options for your rental. You need to make a reservation or at least request a quote to get the prices.
There are other smaller sites which also give you a choice of vehicles and prices (but not expect to find a long list to choose from). A Nissan Maxima will set you back US$ 189.63 per day (in Beijing).
Some local rental companies offer English speaking drivers, which are an excellent option if you want to explore an area by car.
Driving in China
In mainland China, driving is on the right (just like in the USA). In Macau and Hong Kong, driving is on the left. If your international license is not accepted in China (and don’t have a provisional one), you are safe on the way for 14 days in prison.
Speed limits range from 30 km/h (city roads with one lane per direction) to 120 km/h (express roads). Unfortunately, speeding is common pretty much everywhere, adding to the danger of driving in China.
The national highways are a pleasure to negotiate as the road is in good shape. Speed limit is 80 km/h but good luck finding someone else (aside you) who sticks to that. Provincial highways are in good shape , too but are poorly marked and often have only one lane per direction. Country roads are quite challenging to tackle.
Express routes and expressways have signs both in English and Chinese. These are serviced by filling stations and emergency facilities.
Traffic accidents in China are often fatal; in fact they are the leading cause of death in the country for people aged 15 to 45. Seen from outside, the traffic seem chaotic and without rules. Or shall we say the only rule is trying not to hit each other? Drive defensively (or better yet, hire a driver).
Pedestrians have the right of way but it’s not very common for cars to actually stop and allow them to pass. Painted cross walks exist but they don’t exactly offer any protection for the pedestrian. Oh and green light doesn’t mean it’s safe either as drivers often run red lights honking their way through pedestrians.
Bus drivers are among the most aggressive drivers; this appears to be true in almost every country, though.