Chaos on Tianjin roads

Updated: 2011-09-23 15:14

By David Jones (

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When I first came to Tianjin I thought the lunacy that prevails on its road somewhat hilarious and amusing. Just as people laugh watching scary horror movies, I laughed. But seven years later I no longer find the road lunacy amusing. In fact I find it very unamusing and frustratingly annoying; annoying to the point of screaming and the incessant stupid horn sounding, especially the ear-piercing air horns used by trucks and some buses, exacerbates angst.

I have come to the conclusion that there are no set traffic rules; it is a "do as you like" system. Traffic lights are purely decorations left over from last year's Spring Festival; pedestrian crossings are a waste of paint; most drivers could not drive nails into soap let alone manage a car; many do not know which side of the road to travel on or if they do they show scant regard for correctness; traffic lanes are for "centering" your vehicle between two lanes, footpaths are parking stations; and I believe that Driver’s Licenses can be found in packets of Instant Noodles or under soft drink lids.

The great majority of car owners are rude, arrogant, belligerent and selfish who show no manners, common sense or courtesy. I have found that the more expensive the car the more the owners’ aggressive rudeness. Their stupidity and selfishness, such as not giving way ever and/or driving on the wrong side of the road to pass the vehicle in front, impedes the smooth flow of traffic. Car owners park their cars wherever and whenever they like, double or triple parking. I observed a 4-wheeled vehicle pull up in the outside lane of Wei Jin Nan Lu, get out, lock his car, hop over the median rail and go to the Construction Bank on the other side of the road. In Hua Yuan it is common to see cars drive on the footpath and turn right to avoid waiting at the lights. Their stupid, selfish actions to save a few minutes put pedestrians at risk.

Pedestrian crossings are a waste of paint as a car will never stop for a pedestrian. If a driver sees a person on a pedestrian crossing they will first flash their lights and then blaringly sound their horn but never will they apply the brake and slow down. How dare pedestrians slow down their progress! It is said that the annual road death toll in China is above 100,000. I believe that this figure is grossly underestimated but even so it is a miracle that road deaths are not 10 times higher.

Bikers are all on a suicide/self-destruct mission. Their refusal to obey signals or show common sense on the road puts their lives at risk and greatly impedes the smooth flow of traffic as vehicles must avoid them or cause a collision. Avoidance is the cheaper alternative. I have come to the conclusion that since bikers have a death wish, vehicles should accommodate their wishes!

Accidents are common every-hour occurrences. Luckily they are mostly tiny bumps or scratches that only could be seen with a magnifying glass and a good imagination. But still, the offending cars remain stationary and block lanes for hours until a policeman arrives to sort out the pros and cons. The result is more traffic congestion. Surely the law should compel the owners to remove their cars if the estimated damage is less than some arbitrary figure, say Y5,000, and provided that there are no deaths and that the vehicles are able to move.

I will not mention the road worthiness of many vehicles with such things as bald tires, broken lights, broken indicators and broken windshield wipers. I am sure that there cannot be an inspection system for vehicle road worthiness. Some years ago I was traveling on a private bus to Shandong and during a stop I noticed the vehicle tires were all bald. I pointed this out to the driver. He looked at my old shoes and asked me, “Why didn’t I get new shoes?” I said I could not afford them. He replied that he could not afford new tires. Marvelous Chinese Logic. What did my shoes have to do with the bus’s road worthiness? A few kilometres later, the bus was pulled over by traffic policemen. The driver was not wearing a seat belt. The police did not inspect the bus as they must have been seat belt-only policemen. Wait for it: the police car had two bald back tires!

Traffic policemen and women, who I believe have succumbed to the impossible task of trying to keep order on the road, show no real interest or purpose, and some display the intelligence of a Goubuli Bao Zi (a well-known brand of steamed stuffed buns in China). They have given up as they realize that out of chaos comes order, so why attempt an exercise in futility? They stand on point duty allowing cars to “run” red lights and block the green light lanes continuously. They ignore bikes weaving through traffic after defying red lights and appear completely unfazed with the whole shemozzle. They never anticipate situations and take the initiative. As I said, they display reluctance to act and often the intelligence of a Goubuli Bao Zi.

I believe that if Tianjin authorities were to put in place laws and strictly implement them and fine offenders, Tianjin could raise millions and millions, which could be wisely spent making Tianjin more beautiful. Millions could be raised alone from fining drivers using mobiles as nearly every driver at any time can be observed driving one-handed while using the phone! The end result would be a more beautiful city and a much safer city with smoother traffic flow.

David Jones has been living in Tianjin since 2005, when he accepted a position at Tianjin Commercial University, where he taught until his retirement.