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Arrived safely in Beijing

On Friday I drove from Shanghai to Beijing. It was a great experience to do this once, but I will think twice before doing it again. I have often said that in general Chinese are not the best drivers in the world, mainly because the drivers education is terrible (no practicing on the road, low test-passing standards, and even the possibility to buy drivers licenses in smaller cities), many don’t have a lot of experience, and nobody follows the rules. And the trip to Beijing proved this: I have never seen so many accidents in one day as on Friday. I took pictures of a few accidents, but most of the time I just drove on as soon as possible.

The whole trip door-to-door turned out to be about 1300 kilometers (800 miles), a bit longer than I had calculated. The first 600 kilometers it was raining constantly, sometimes it rained so hard that you could not see more than 100 meters ahead. This made driving very tiring, but also very dangerous. Many drivers, especially those of buses and trucks, did not care about the rain and drove as if they were the only ones on the road on a clear, sunny day. Combine that with a lot of inexperienced drivers (likely driving home to their hometowns for the first time in their new cars) that drive 60 km/h in the left or middle lane, and accidents are guaranteed.

One accident occurred right in front of us. I saw a traffic jam ahead (caused by another accident), and immediately slowed down. The car to the right of me, however, just continued at the same speed and only noticed the traffic jam a few seconds later. He could not brake in time anymore. The result: 4 cars that were a total-loss, and hopefully not too many injuries. It was a interesting experience to see how quickly cars can crumble though (hoods that fold, bumpers that fall off), and I was surprised that you hardly heard it (just some metal-to-metal ‘clang’ sounds – in the movies it sure sounds different). But I was very happy that I was not in that lane.
We had several other near-accident experiences, and I was glad I was behind the wheel myself. People just don’t use their mirrors, and move from right to left without looking whether there is a car next to them. One car almost crushed us. This driver was ahead of me in the left lane of a 4-lane highway, and wanted to pass two trucks in front of us. But one truck was just passing the other, so he decided to move to the far right and pass the truck over the emergency lane. That turned out to be too narrow, so he moved back right away, but did not notice that I was now in his old spot! I blew the horn and immediately jumped on my brakes. It was a very narrow escape, but the other driver did not even blink. Crazy.

You should not take this trip for the natural scenery, because that was a bit of a turn-off. I actually knew that already, because I had flown this route tens of times over the past years, and never noticed anything special. Northern Jiangsu province is very poor, and at some place the landscape reminded me of painting of Holland in the 1600-1700’s. Rivers, woods and grassland. Quite nice to live if it would be closer to a metropolis, but nothing exciting. Shandong province was nicer, especially the southern part where there are some mountains. But the landscape here was very barren and dry. Hardly a tree grew on the slopes of the hills, and most of the fields were brown. While driving through Hebei province it was dark already, so I could not really see that much. But it must be very poor, because all I could see was pitch-darkness. No lights, no towns or villages, no advertising along the road, just a new (and empty) 6-lane expressway in a dark landscape.

The whole trip took us about 12 hours. The roads were generally excellent, much better for example than the average German Autobahn. The first hours in the rain were very slow, but once we were in Shandong it became dry, and all the other cars had disappeared. The last part therefore went especially fast. I managed to drive 180-190 km/h for at least two hours in northern Shandong and southern Hebei, and then you make up a lot of lost time. From Jinan to Beijing only took us about 2.5 hours, including getting gas and getting the license to enter Beijing with a non-Beijingnese car. Just before arriving in Beijing we almost ended up under a big truck that was ghost driving on the Tianjin-Beijing expressway: the truck had probably missed an exit and decided to turn around completely and drive back in the left (=fast) lane. I was doing about 150 km/h at the time, and suddenly saw his headlights coming closer very fast. I braked and immediately moved to the right – just like the truck did… It went OK, but my adrenaline was at the upper limit again.

This is probably the one and only time that I am going to drive this route. It’s just too dangerous, and I don’t want to lose my life because of some stupid or inexperienced driver. The only problem is, I still need to get back to Shanghai next weekend with my car. Not sure yet how to solve that, but I still have a week to think about it. Suggestions are welcome.

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  1. ???! ????!! ( ???? )

    Hi, Mac: So released to see your new post coming out, which means you guys are safe home. I can’t see any ways if you don’t want to drive back except for costing big bucks shipping your car back. Good luck & Enjoy Beijing!

  2. Too bad I’m not in Beijing right now as I would have been more then happy to drive your car back to SHA. It sounds like a “once in a life time” experience (in your case literally…)

  3. Sorry to hear you had such a dangerous road trip. I drove last summer from Beijing to Shenyang to Dalian (car ferry) to Yantai to Weihai to Qingdao to Jinan to Beijing. Total about 2500 km. Did not have nay of the experiences you mentioned. Thank god! This was our third major China road trip. The second was Beijing to Jinan to Weihai to Qingdao to Beijing – about 1000 k. Also no incidents like you mentioned. Maybe we were just lucky. We also drove Beijing to Inner Mongolia a few years back with no incidents.

    We were just talking about driving down to Shanghai over the Chinese New years, but after reading your post, will need to reconsider. Thanks.

  4. Jeff, normally driving from BJ to SH should be OK, but the combination of Chinese New Year and bad weather makes it potentially lethal. Better wait until Spring Festival is over before planning such a trip.