Monday, September 20, 2010

The most important lesson of The Tank Man

Yield to pedestrians!!

I was hit by a vehicle in the street a couple of days ago.  This is at least the fourth or fifth time that's happened to me while I've been living in China.  As opposed to NEVER in the thirty-odd years I've lived in other countries.  That's a fair indication of just how murderously bad driving standards are here.

I think driving is particularly awful here in Beijing, where the people seem to be imbued with an especially robust bloody-mindedness, a selfish conviction that rules don't apply to them.  Such rules as there are, that is.  There don't seem to be many.  And even the few pathetically inadequate traffic rules are not backed by any significant enforcement (again, it may be that the situation is particularly bad in the capital: nearly all the police here are busy monitoring potential 'subversives'; traffic police are just about invisible, non-existent - trying to curb homicidal incompetence on the roads just isn't any kind of priority).  Driver education is minimal.  Road junctions are poorly designed; traffic light timing is illogical, insane.  The problems seem too numerous to begin to address, impossible to rectify.

But the No. 1 problem - at least here in ME, ME, ME Beijing - is that nobody pays any attention to pedestrians crossing the road.  A green crossing signal means nothing, because drivers will often have a green left filter light at the same time (and you can turn right on a red light!); and drivers turning left or right at a junction will not slow down - much less stop - for pedestrians attempting to cross the road; indeed, at times it seems they actively delight in trying to scare you, aiming straight for you and trying to force you to scurry out of their way.

Of course, I tend to take them on: I'll keep obstinately to my chosen path and pace, refusing to be hurried out of the way; sometimes I'll even stop in my tracks and turn to face them, demanding that they STOP, or detour around me.  It's a dangerous game, and I'll probably get splatted one day.

Drivers turning left are a particular problem because the major roads in Beijing are so wide that they are given a very generous turning circle and scarcely need to slow down at all to make their turn; they'll just steam straight across the junction at 25 or 30 mph, or even more, heedless of the vulnerable pedestrians in their path.  

That's what happened to me the other day.  I got creased across the left thigh by a lightweight mini-van taking a turn at well over 20 mph.  The driver saw me, but made no attempt to moderate his speed or steer around me; he expected me to avoid him.  The dozen or so other people attempting to cross with me saw the lunatic gleam in his eyes and either ran to the far side of the road or scuttled backwards out of his way.  Me, I just kept on walking at a normal pace, expecting that the guy would realise I was going to be slap bang in front of him when he reached the crossing and that he would have to deviate just slightly to the left or the right to avoid killing me.  He didn't.  He just kept on coming - way too fast to have had any chance of braking to a halt.  And, at the very last moment, realising the bastard was going to run me down, I had to check my stride, take a swift half-pace backwards, and flinch away from the speeding vehicle.  And the bastard still clipped me quite hard.

Such murderous lunacy on the roads is one of the most depressing things about living in China, and one of the things that most disposes me towards giving up on the country and moving somewhere else.


JES said...

Not saying this is likely, but it would help if the authorities recognized the subversive potential of reckless driving...

I drove a cab for about 1-1/2 years in suburban New Jersey, and heard occasional reports of/from fellow drivers who thought pedestrians playing your "chicken" game were just daring them to play. (Hmm. Thinking now of your "Bon Mot for the Week" post -- choosing the field/moment of battle, in a locale where every intersection represents a potential battle, does sound like a dangerous game!)

moonrat said...

Oh dear. I hope you are not typing this while laid up in traction?

Don Tai said...

As a general rule in China, the larger vehicle wins, or the smaller vehicle gets squashed. Please do not test the driving skill of Chinese drivers as you already know that it is quite low. Here in Toronto this is always true. There is no point and you may have an extended stay in a Chinese hospital.

When in China I follow in the steps of some random Granny so I don't get run over. She steps forward, then so do I. You might want to do the same.

Froog said...

Interesting technique, Don - but I'm not sure that the longevity of grannies is any evidence of their superior survival skills in crossing the road; nor do I think Beijing drivers accord any greater respect to old people. Grannies get squished too.

I have not - so far - suffered anything worse than a bruise from these idiots; have never actually been knocked over, just winged very lightly. Luckily I am super-alert and super-agile. When I got old and infirm, I need to be somewhere else, or I'm not going to last very long.

Even more annoying than these psychos who make a left at full speed are the ones who just keep edging forward at half-a-mile per hour into a stream of pedestrians, refusing to use the brake pedal. Most of my collisions have been with these bastards: You're not actually going to run into me, are you? Oh, you are!

Insofar as the powers-that-be give any thought at all to this problem, I fear there's a strong possibility that they've decided they're perfectly OK with it. As with chronic pollution, universal chain-smoking, and non-existent health-and-safety codes in the workplace - anything that shortens life expectancy is for the greater good of the country as a whole.

JES said...

By the by, have you recently changed the portion of your template which applies to commenting? When I visit the 'ville from my work PC, I can no longer see (or of course enter) any comments. (This has happened to other Blogger-based sites which change over from the default old-style Blogger comments form.)

ജാബിർ said...


omg said...

Oh man. Memories of Thailand...
Glad you're okay.

Froog said...

I haven't been to Thailand (over than a few hours in Bangkok airport), but I've never heard anyone else complain of the traffic being particularly bad there.

My impression is that most places in the Third World seem rather hectic, anarchic, compared to what we're used to, and so crossing the street becomes an unusually stressful operation.

What's different in China - and especially, I think, in Beijing - is the very large number of cars (often very large cars). Also, perhaps, the almost complete lack of driver education here, and the very, very poor average quality of people's eyesight. I don't mind dodging through swarms of scooters, tuk-tuks and the like; but having a friggin' SUV bearing down on me at 25mph and showing no inclination at all to apply the brake is... a different level of alarming.

Froog said...

JES, sorry to hear about your recent problems with commenting. I find it baffling as to why your workplace firewall should have a problem with this 'view' of the comment form (which is a Froogville page, after all; and you're still able to see the blog homepage, right?) rather than the separate, in-a-popup-box comment form (which is a Blogger page).

Even more oddly, I have had this setting for my comments form checked since god-knows-when, but Blogger has only recently started to acknowledge my preference!

I hope you can find a way to work around this inconvenience - or that it just goes away again.

I'm reluctant to change back (not sure that it would even be possible!).