The vehicles out here are crazy enough, but it's nothing like the traffic insanity where there's total disregard for traffic laws. Driving on the wrong side, splitting lanes, running red lights, blocking traffic, and incessant lane changing - anything is legal as long as you lay on the horn to announce it. Trucks and buses have the right away regardless of the law, while motorcycles zoom through traffic to fill the tiny spaces from every direction imaginable.
Note that all of these pictures were shot from the window of a moving car. This is a lot harder than it sounds and these pictures are only a fraction of the crazy stuff I was seeing. Some of the cool stuff I missed: Moms pushing baby strollers down the middle of the divided highway, and cars driving on the sidewalk.
More Pictures of Crazy Traffic
Like the U.S., China drives on the right, but that's where the similarity ends. If the left side, sidewalk, or red lights are more convenient then that's where they'll go. And that's the quickest description of Chinese traffic – drive where ever you want and how ever you want, then honk your horn at everyone who might get in your way.
One popular trick is to shoot onto the left side just before the light turns green, and pass all the poor suckers waiting for the light. City buses love this technique. And to make it even easier, traffic lights have countdown timers so they can anticipate the change. Think that right-turn ramp is only good for right turns? Thought wrong dude, they work just as well in the other direction. And is that divided highway stopping you from making a left turn? It's not stopping anybody out here, it makes a great shortcut to the next intersection.
Just as popular is running red lights. Every single light change is followed by vehicles continuing through long after the red, and they'll keep coming until the green-light traffic gets in the way. Even if they know they can't get through they'll pull in, knowing cross traffic won't actually ram them. Trucks and buses love this technique and will block cross traffic with total disregard for anyone else on the road.
The most common anomaly is incessant lane changing. To save themselves one or two seconds, nearly every car will chronically change lanes to fill any gap where they think they might fit, even if they don't really want that lane. And there doesn't even have to be a gap, just nose the car between two others and lay on the horn. And forget about lollygaging in the right turn lane 50 feet from your turn: just gun it and pass up the slow poke then dive in front of him and slam on the brakes, even if the driveway is blocked and you can't turn anyhow.
And don't think stop signs will do you any good - there are no stop signs in Guangdong province! None. Any intersection that doesn't have a traffic light (for all the good they do) is a free for all. Nobody stops, they just merge at full speed. It's common for trucks to blow right into a busy intersection knowing no one is brave enough to hit them. Even if you can't possibly get through, just plow right on in and make each lane stop as you jam from lane to lane. And not just trucks: cycles, bikes, and baby strollers have just as much right to throw themselves in front of a car as anyone else.
Worst of all are the motorcycles. They're all over the place. Thousands of them going in every direction possible, with total disregard for traffic movement or laws: on the wrong side, on the sidewalk, between lanes, running red lights, blocking traffic, and zig zagging lanes like a pinball machine. And then they're loaded up with a ton of cargo. Whether it's a cubic yard of toilet paper, a stack of plywood, a sofa, or a family of four - if it fits in a car it'll fit on a motorcycle. And don't worry about backing up traffic: they've been changing lanes all day they can change one more time. Don't even worry about red lights, they're just as easy to run with or without that baby on back.
Rather than written laws, in China anything is legal as long as you announce it with a blast from the horn. Need to squeeze in, go the wrong way, or just block traffic - let them all know in advance and you have the right of way. And not just occasionally, blast away every chance you get along with every other car on the road until the streets are flooded with the nonstop barrage of a rock concert gone mad. Car ahead of you can't move? Let him have it too, just lay on the horn till your battery goes dead, let him know who's boss.
And don't attempt a crosswalk without looking eight ways first. First, pedestrians don't have the right of way in a crosswalk and cars won't give them an inch even if they did. And second, a car could be coming from any direction, including from the sidewalk behind you. Even if the crosswalk has the walk signal, cars will run right through honking at the pedestrians clogging the road. Even if the car can't pass through, they'll stop in the crosswalk rather than allowing the pedestrians a lane. And how about that old timer pushing the cargo bike - think they'll let him cross? Think again, he's just another road block to honk at and sideswipe. Give 'em the finger old man, bikes don't have horns.
With all this madness on the roads you'd think the pedestrians would be afraid to cross the street, but you'd be wrong. They're just as brazen as the cars, throwing themselves right into the mix. Need to get across the street: don't bother waiting on the curb just stand right in traffic and make the cars go around. Better yet, turn your back to them and make them honk - that's what horns are for, right? Red lights and cross traffic are no problem either, just flood the lane en-mass and make the cars stop, then wedge yourself across the highway one lane at a time. Got a baby in your arms - who cares? No one around here does, just push the stroller down the middle of the road until you get a lane.
It's all madness on an epic scale. Ten million people risking their lives to save themselves five seconds to get to a job that pays a dollar an hour.
Note: One month after I returned from this trip, the county of Dongguan banned motorcycles! Apparently, their total lawlessness and purse snatching was getting out of control. Scooters are ok, and a few taxi are still operating illegally.
Dongguan China 2007
A typical week of insane traffic in Changping.