Death on Chinese Roads

from Reuters:

> China has the world’s highest annual road death toll. Traffic accidents killed nearly 107,000 people last year, the result of skyrocketing car demand, poor roads and bad driving.

Yikes. I don’t doubt it, but this was the first time I came across statistics of this sort. Of course, it would be helpful if the statistics were given more context. China ranks “highest” for a lot of things, given that it is the world’s most populous nation.

And my girlfriend wonders why I’m in no hurry to get my Shanghai driver’s license….


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. John,

    My aunt is a Senior Underwriter for one of the largest insurance companies in the States and according to her China currently accounts for 3% of all the automobiles in the world, yet they also account for 17% of global traffic fatalities.


  2. That jives with the information I have as well. Total cars in China smaller than US, but 3x casualties.

  3. Gordon and Jeremy,

    Thanks, that was the kind of larger picture I was looking for.

  4. Da Xiangchang Says: April 20, 2005 at 4:21 am

    I once saw a minivan run into a guy in Shanghai. Actually, it was one of those Chinese mini-minivans, and the guy bounced off it (the van was going around 20 miles an hour). A small crowd gathered, checked the guy out, and when everything seemed okay, the van drove off and the guy went on his way. It was mind-boggling.

  5. Curious as to how to determine/survey such a statistic when the Da Xiangchang observation example exists.

    I think, in all my time on a bike, walking, in a taxi in China, I saw more “wow, that is some really crazy hand-eye coordination” examples (guy, wearing gray suit, on bike, talking on cell phone, peddling through a busy intersection – or – two buses, one of which i was passenger on, squeezing through a one lane road, literally an inch apart), than, “damn, that is a crazy accident that I cant seem to turn away from” examples.

    It was a relief not owning/leasing/being in possession or driving a car in China and not seeing huge gargantuan parking lot structures or lots.

    There was news reported recently that a lot of the new car sales have slowed dramatically in China. That was a relief to hear. Though the news continues to report of oil and steet/concrete usage increasing.

  6. For the three years that I was working in Vietnam, I saw in general an auto accident resulting in a fatality once a week. There were not as many automobiles in Vietnam as in China, but the percentage of the population having motor bikes was very significant, with the remaining using bicycles. That combination, autos, motorbikes, and bicycles is not a good combination and the Vietnamese do not have the bycycle lanes that one sees in Chinese cities.

    As an example, one day while driving from work to home, a large truck with large tires was behind an old fellow on a bycicly. The truck decided to pass him and in doing so failed to allow enough space for the old guy and consequently swallowed him up in the front right wheel well, decapitating him immediately. This right in front of my eys. On another occasion, I did not see the accident itself, but arrive soon after, a motorcycle laying on the road with the driver laying on road dead. It must have just occurred, as only two people were approaching the scene, not enough time to attract a large audience.

    As far as China is concerned, I am not sure it is safer to be in an auto or just near a moving auto. I have seen several accidents, but so far no fatalities, which I am kind of happy to not see, but crossing the roads as a pedestrian I have the distinct feeling that one is a moving target for many of the drivers, even for those on bicycles.

  7. I found that drivers in China were a lot more accommodating than drivers in NZ. We have a serious national problem with road rage, and asian drivers are often at the recieving end of this. Mostly because in crowded cities in Asia you kind of get used to people cutting you off, or whatever, you drive slower and expect it and you cut people off too (with a friendly beep — note to Chinese: beeps are NOT friendly in NZ). In NZ they’ll follow you to your destination and abuse you at worst, or just pass you leaning out the windown honking and giving the finger!

    I used to get angry at Chinese in NZ who bike SO SLOW, until I went to China and saw a foreigner hooning down a crowded a street — I thought ” oh my goodness he’s going to die!!!”.

  8. Still, the facts that we have aren’t quite enough to complete the picture. China may not have many cars compared to the US, but it has lots more pedestrians.

  9. I agree with JFS. In four months in Saigon I saw about 10 serious road accidents, two of them fatal. 19 months living in Shanghai and Chengdu and I have yet to see anything except some minor bumps. That totally chaotic combination of scooters, bikes, trucks and cars in Vietnam is really lethal. In fact, during my last four weeks there I got really paranoid about it and refused to get on any more scooters at all, opting for taxis instead (forget about buses there – public transport is absolutely hopeless).
    When I first got to Shanghai I was actually pleasantly surprised at how relatively ordered and safe the traffic was. I was expecting to have to cope with something like Saigon again.

  10. To tell you the truth, I’ve also been surprised by how few car accidents I see in China. It seems like I see more accidents in the US, and the ones I see in China are almost all very minor. What gives?

  11. I was thinking the same thing, John, and I decided that the culprit was my comparative lack of mobility in China – I just don’t spend that much time on the road. In the states, at the times when I had a car, I drove all over the place locally, and took long trips from time to time. Thinking back to when I was relatively isolated on a college campus, though, I didn’t see much more than the random parking-related rear-end.

  12. Daily linklets 19th April

    The China/Japan tensions post has been updated again, including some interesting information on who was in the crowd at the Shanghai protests. Nine true stories about Paul, or why he won’t be using a time machine to visit the battle of Waterloo. Drink…

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