Traffic Laws in China

Published on Author walkerc

While reading Country Driving, it becomes apparent that traffic laws are not the same in China as they are in the U.S. and residents of China have a different attitude towards driving than residents of the U.S.  The author describes many instances of bribery that occur within the city and how accidents among vehicles are a common occurrence. After reading the book it almost seems as though traffic laws in China are either non-existent or not enforced. I decided to research common traffic laws in China to see if there was any variation between China and U.S. law. According to, many of the traffic laws observed in the U.S. are also observed in China with a few minor changes. The two prominent variations are the legal driving age of 18 in China and the legal BAC for drivers in China is less than 0.2%, compared to 0.8% for U.S. drivers over the age of 21. Since the laws are generally the same in both countries, it would seem that there is a lack of enforcement when it comes to traffic laws. An article published just this month by CNN describes how China is now cracking down on traffic law enforcement and using stricter penalties for violators. ( The new rules provide stricter penalties for drunk driving and talking on the phone while driving. The law also states that running a yellow light is the same thing as running a red light. Although the public is greatly against these new rules as some of them do not make sense, it would seem that they are effective at controlling the amount of accidents. The accident rate has decreased by 9% within 5 major cities since the laws were passed which shows improvement of driving conditions within China.

9 Responses to Traffic Laws in China

  1. In the same vein, the book suggests that many accidents may go unreported. Several pages in Country Driving are devoted to the author’s experiences with accidents. He mentions that the process is not similar to the process of a car accident in the U.S. Instead of calling the police to report an accident and settling with insurance companies, it seems as though drivers simply reach an oral agreement of a price and the amount is paid to the victim. It would be interesting to see if the 9% decrease in the accident rate in 5 major cities in China since the new traffic laws and stricter enforcement remains at that level if all accidents were reported.

  2. I agree that traffic laws are an important aspect of improving the safety of driving in China. However it also seemed in Country Driving that obtaining a drivers license placed much more an emphasis on the different traffic laws rather than driving a car itself. Clearly there is an issue when the emphasis is placed on written tests pertaining to rules and restrictions yet they are still frequently not followed or are unenforced. I think China could make a bigger difference in increasing drivers safety by requiring all residents to spend a certain number of hours with an experienced driving instructor where they can actually face driving laws and regulations head on.

  3. I also wonder how many accidents go unreported. Additionally, its possible that police statistics deliberately downplay accidents or ignore them all together in order to appear more effective. Was there any mention of the types of accidents?

  4. “Country Driving” provided a lot of causes for China’s poor driving record and this article points out that at least one is still relevant: a lack of congruence with the country’s driving conditions. In the book, Hessler notes that Beijing mayor Chen Xitong required the city’s drivers to use headlights while driving at night — something that wasn’t required throughout China at the time. On a similar note, the CNN article comments that Beijing’s current traffic lights are not like other cities’ because they don’t warn drivers when a light will change. The dissimilarity in driving conditions from city to city creates uncertainty which continues to foster a dangerous driving environment in China that needs to be addressed in order to further diminish automobile accidents.

  5. Despite the increase in laws and the severity of laws I wonder if they will even be able to be enforced efficiently. The new law of running a yellow light comes with a penalty of an automatic deduction of 6 points. However, as we learned in “Country Driving” insurance fails to play a big role in the lives of Chinese drivers so it is unclear if these penalties will be enforced or be effective. Clearly driving laws need to change in China and I think one of the first steps would be to increase the enforcement against driving penalties. In the US we have speed cameras and cops everywhere to penalize drivers for breaking the law and by adopting a similar policy it is likely that China’s driving conditions would improve.

  6. There’s also cultural differences that can’t be curtailed by these new laws. I think that not only is the structured driving education different than in America, but the proximity to car culture is quite different. For example, Americans grow up around cars and it is a pretty normal thing for a teenager to have a driver’s license once they’re of age. Driving, and cars in general, have been a large part of American culture for a long time. Until this new generation of Chinese youth start to grow up around cars and driving, they won’t have the informal education. Children in America (for the most part) witness their parents and siblings drive for countless hours before they start to drive, thus partially orienting them with driving etiquette. I’d be very interested to see as driving becomes more mainstream, if the new laws are indeed helping reduce accidents or whether a low accident rate is occurring countrywide regardless.

  7. I think some interesting points have been hit on with mentioning the driving exam’s emphasis on laws & rules rather than actual experience (means), absence of insurance regulation (harbaugh), credibility of the statistics themselves (paulsen), but one thing that should also be mentioned is that for many people in China, this is their first time driving a car. I’m not sure where the statistics would be found, but if we could go back to see how frequently accidents happened when Americans started getting their hands on vehicles and then consider the rapidity with which China’s streets are filling up with vehicles, we might understand these statistics better. The average driving experience in China is something like 4-6 years, which is kind of like handing cars over to a bunch of teenagers and seeing how they learn the “rules of the road.”

    • Yes, you would find that in the past traffic deaths in the US and Europe were higher in absolute terms, and given population growth in relative terms. However, we know how to reduce deaths — seatbelts, vehicle crush zones, and of course road design and traffic flow (which comes from having drivers follow rules). So some of this is experience, some is the lack of “safe” vehicles. New vehicles, at least as made in joint ventures, do however have developed country standards for brakes, lights, seatbelts, airbags and crush zones…

  8. I think Duncan brings up a very valid point. Yes, there are higher rates of accidents in China when compared to the U.S today. But China is still in the early stages of learning how to drive. Its citizens are just recently gaining experience and becoming familiar with the “rules of the road.” It takes time for these rules to really settle in and for the people to follow them effectively.