There appear to be none.
Having spent about ten days here now and done much walking around, I was ready to accept that at some point in my short stay here in Shanghai I’d probably end up in a mangled heap on the asphalt and swear never to come back ever again.
On closer inspection though, there does in fact appear to be just one traffic law in China:
force equals mass times acceleration
Simply put, the larger, faster vehicles will probably win. Certainly the bus and taxi drivers behave as though this is the truth (and who am I to argue with such a strong case?)
Crossing the road is rather more, shall we say, “entertaining” than in places like Germany or the UK. In such countries, the red light stops the traffic and the people cross and everyone takes turns and it’s all very civilised (if a tad slow), and pretty much everyone comes out of it with their vehicles/limbs etc intact.
But, let’s be perfectly honest here: Where’s the fun in that? Let’s take a closer look at transport methods here in Asia.
Here, it works like this:
Lanes don’t really mean much: they’re more of a guide really. There’s an extra outside lane that’s fenced off on each side of major roads. This is mostly used by bikes, mopeds, etc. They travel in whichever direction pleases them.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful. You can even use your Shanghai metro card on them (take note, London). Changing lanes is done with utmost efficiency, thus menacing all other road users.
Taxis appear to be powered by their horns.
E-bikes, mopeds and the like are very popular due to their low price and cheap taxes. They use the main lane of major roads, the extra outside lane, and the pavement. They are also silent. At night, to save fuel, they keep their lights off.
Minimum occupancy: three persons.
The standard load is as follows: 10 cubic metres of cardboard boxes / steel poles / bamboo / chickens. Riders are encouraged to be on the phone, holding an umbrella, or both at the same time. At night, to save batteries, they keep their lights off.
Minimum occupancy: two persons.
- Green light does countdown.
- Taxis, buses, mopeds, bicycles speed up to avoid being caught at traffic light.
- Light changes to red.
- The last few straggling taxis and buses that didn’t quite make it continue anyway so as not to cause too much of a queue at the red light they just left behind.
- People now begin to cross.
- Bicycles, mopeds, taxis turning a corner on a red light (sometimes left, sometimes right, sometimes left across 6 lanes) continue to do so.
- Wildebeest strategy now comes into play: the edge of the herd is the most dangerous place to be. So, I ensure that there are at least a couple of people between me and the oncoming vehicles: preferably children or the elderly. This is to ensure that I’m not the first one to get mowed down.
- Red light does countdown.
- Pedestrians now speed up as much as possible because…
- … at about 3 seconds to go, the taxis, buses, etc will start to drive through the junction (because almost-green is pretty much actually-green)
And there you have it. A condensed guide to city traffic in China. I’m no expert yet: I’m still perfecting the confident-stride-through-bike-lane, but that will come with time and practice.