I have been to many large cities, both in the U.S. and abroad, and NEVER have I seen anything remotely close to the insanity that passes for driving in Shanghai. I’m talking bike driving, scooter driving, car and truck driving, and sometimes God-knows-what driving. Rule of thumb for pedestrians? If you get hit by a vehicle of any kind on the streets of Shanghai, it is your fault. None of that no-fault crap here ’cause it’s on you. You should have seen it coming.
Trust me, the driver that cuts left across 6 lanes — not diagonally but perpendicular to oncoming traffic — and is heading straight at you, is thinking to himself, “hell, that guy needs to move or someone’s gonna run over him.” He will then run over you…. and it will be your fault.
Traffic regulations here serve strictly as guidelines. No one follows them. You have to wait a good 10 seconds after a light turns green before you cross a street because not everybody stops. And even though they have a red light, the drivers still approach the intersection at warp speed, those that stop screeching to a halt in front of you, those that don’t just flying on by. And the latter usually have their horn blaring so you are aware that they are running the red light. It’s kind of a driver courtesy thing.
Now I don’t want to indict all Shanghai drivers, just a lot of them. There are good drivers, like our driver Steven. At first, I was a little put out that Ford required us to have a driver. I’m used to driving myself and the family when we need to go somewhere and have done so in big American cities and foreign countries before. I like, and need, the freedom to come and go as I please. Relying on a bike to get me places just doesn’t cut it. That was, until I had my first car ride from the Pudong airport.
On that ride, I violated my long-held rule that in a cab or hired car, you never ever look out the front windshield. If something is coming your way, it’s still coming whether you see it or not. So I’d rather not. But on this ride, it was like watching a car crash (literally) and I couldn’t take my eyes from the near demolition derby going on out the window.
Though there were marked lanes on the freeway, other drivers on the road seemed disinterested in them and roamed from lane to lane, not bothering to use blinkers. I felt as if our driver was driving more by instinct than sight, anticipating the sudden intrusions into our lane a split second before they happened. Once off the highway, there were suddenly thousands of bikes and scooters in the mix, driving into and out of moving traffic, everyone bumper to tire. It was like the Tour de France, only with cars, trucks and scooters. And pedestrians. Amidst all this chaos were people, fighting there way against, across and sometimes through the deluge of metal that is Shanghai at rush hour. I watched in horror and wondered for the life of me how so many of these people stayed alive.
So I got right pretty quickly with the idea of a driver. Fortunately for us, Steven is a great, safety-conscious driver, and a good guy to boot. It also turns out that Ford (and most other Western companies) provide drivers because Chinese regulations make it difficult for foreigners to obtain drivers licenses. You can get a 3 month temporary driver’s permit if you have a valid license from your home country. After that, you must have a state sponsored physical examination (a variation of which I took to get my residence permit, and would not wish on my worst enemy), take a “traffic regulation test,” and then take the formal written test that has over 100 questions on it, and is in Chinese. Hello Steven!
The end of this story? As if I had my very own special death wish, I got an electric scooter a few weeks ago. Because really, once you get used to the insanity of Shanghai roads, it’s all just about being able to get things done. The four of us all have a myriad of activities we do everyday and there is only one of Steven. So, the scooter has given us the freedom to get everything we need done. Yeah, we stay relatively local with it, and I’m pretty cautious compared to my fellow Shanghainese. But at the end of the day, it’s just really, really fun to drive.
And now I have to jump on the scooter and go get Stephanie from school. (Cassidy is in Xi’an in central China on her first 6th grade class trip.) Then Steph and I are going to take the scooter out to the wild west that is Shanghai, and shoot some fun traffic pics for this post — assuming we make it back in one piece.