I’m like Martin and Druid, I think. I hardly talk at all when driving; if the only passenger is my wife, I will probably not talk at all; if the passenger is someone I haven’t seen for a long time, or someone I don’t know well, they just have to put up with long periods of silence. I like having more than one passenger, then they can entertain themselves and leave me to get on with the job of driving; if those passengers are my wife and daughter, my experience is they go to sleep anyway, so that’s fine by me.
When I arrived in Xiamen — 1,560 square kilometres total; Xiamen Island, with the main conurbation, more or less circular 13 Km (8 miles) in diameter — at the end of May 2000, the population was ca. 2.2 million total, with about 1.2 million on the island, and there was the grand total of 5,600 private cars. That lasted until about 2005/6 when the central government decreed that people should be encouraged to buy cars to raise production and boost the economy. The figures are now total population of about 2.5 million (largely result of immigration from other parts of China, not the government’s decree!) with 1.5 million on the island, and private car ownership is somewhere around 750,000 — and no, I haven’t got the comma in the wrong place and too many 0s. 6 months ago, it seems sales of private cars in Xiamen had dropped … to roughly 3,000 new cars per month! As in all other aspects of development, China has developed so fast — we in the UK must have taken nearly 50 years for traffic to have grown in the same proportion as China’s has in 5 years — understanding of what this means for the road user and how to keep the flow going has not kept pace.
Over that time, the vast majority of those new cars have been in the hands of people who have just got their driving licence, whether through actually being tested — a process which involves virtually no open-road driving, even less in serious traffic — or simple cash bungs to driving instructors, and who as a result have had neglible experience of driving in traffic. Driving in China has three characteristics: (1) it is competitive, not co-operative; (2) it is based on reaction, not anticipation; (3) in general, although there is a book of traffic regulations several hundred pages long that they have to learn in order to pass their theoretical test, the attitude is, “The traffic regulations are excellent, but they don’t really apply to me” and in practice there is one working rule of the road … “Don’t hit anything in front of you”. And these are the people who are talking on their phones and sending text messages while driving.
I don’t drive in China. You really can’t anticipate what Chinese traffic is going to do, especially when those behind the wheel are more interested in their phones than in the other road users. I would, therefore, be a danger myself!