Sunday Roast: Chinese drivers are crazy

Corby experiences the roads in China and decides Australia is not so bad after all

Traffic jam China

You don’t often get warm and fuzzy with your Sunday Roast, so lie back and enjoy this surprising sensation.

You, my fellow Australians, aren’t actually that bad at driving, at least in global terms. I’m not talking to the truck drivers among you, of course, because you sit pointlessly and slug-like in the slow lane in a way that truly puts you up there with the world’s worst.

But if you’ve ever put your life on the line by spending time on China’s roads, you’ll even agree that our cab drivers are pretty good; compared to ones who don’t offer seat-belts, or driving ability, or display any desire to wake up tomorrow.

I travelled to Shanghai for exactly one night, because there was no way I could get there and back quicker, and only for the chance to drive the Lamborghini Huracan on an F1 track. For about 40 minutes.

And I was reminded once again that Chinese drivers – and let’s not forget there are roughly 60 of them for every one of us – make us look like Italians, or even Germans.

Within minutes of heading out from the airport, you start doing the math; there are more people in this city than in all of Australia, and if they all drive like this – no indicators, no sense of a need to stay in one lane for more than a moment, no head-checking – is it possible to be on the roads here for even an hour without being involved in an accident?

This was not a good time to go to the internet (not Google, of course, it’s banned there) and read that at least 300 people are killed on Chinese roads EVERY DAY.

They top the world for both death toll (the sheer number of dead bodies) and death rate (per capita), which is eight times higher than in the US.

It actually took three hours, two of which were spent sitting almost entirely still in traffic – and there’s another thing to be thankful for, while we’re being fuzzy; on their worst days, Sydney and Melbourne have no traffic at all compared to Shanghai or Beijing – to have an accident.

Having, surprisingly, fallen asleep in traffic – looking out the window of the minibus was too depressing, because the sky looks like spilt milk in an ash tray, permanently – I was woken by the sound of it grinding a delivery van into the crash barrier and bashing our side of his vehicle pretty badly.

Straight on the front foot, our driver leapt out of the bus and hurled abuse at the clearly innocent van driver, with the Lamborghini PR woman following him meekly.

A lot of shouting followed, for about two minutes, and then everyone just got back in their vehicles and drove off. No exchange of papers, only sharp words.

I was just grateful my smash had come at low speed. On the bus, we went back to talking about the Beijing Marathon, held the day before in smog so thick it was 13 times worse than the World Health Organisation’s level of what’s considered unsafe. One-third of participants pulled out on the day, and many of those who did run wore masks.

They might not be great drivers – in fact they’re horrendous and seem to have been trained by suicide squads – but they sure drive a lot of cars, and what they (and a heap of heavy industry) are doing to the skies over there is nothing less than terrifying.

Be glad you live here, and be proud. My personal research shows that Thais, Indians, Egyptians and South Africans are all more terrifying to drive with than us. Everyone else is better, even the Americans, but still, feel good about yourselves. This week.


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Stephen Corby

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