Traffic in Shanghai

Today, the last day of my May holiday, I received an email from a friend asking me about my opinion on traffic in Shanghai. He is very smart and sensitive to small details. He shared a lot of great observation he had in Shanghai. To answer the emails, let me post my thinking in a blog.

Traffic Rules

Many foreigners observed the traffic rules do not work as it would in Shanghai. It is true.

Any country and city need to learn to get used to modern traffic, and must have the right hardware (lights, lines on roads) to support that. Most importantly, people need time to be educated about the rules.

Shanghai definitely does not perform well in terms of traffic rules, but I think it is the natural steps to get used to a car-centric world. Most pedestrians do not drive, and don’t know how it feels to sit at the driver’s seat. I believe my walking behavior changes before and after I learnt to drive – I start to really understand how dangerous to cross the road randomly or walk on the road at night (when lightening condition is not good).

Also, I would say, Shanghai is one of the best cities in terms of traffic rule enforcement. This may be surprising for many people, but for me, it is true. In many cities I visited myself, there are even astonishing things. For example, on the expressway of Xi’an to Tongchuan, or from Luoyang to Zhengzhou, buses stop on the lane to pickup passengers waiting on the road. Cow and horse carts run on the same expressway, while cars passing by at 120 km/hour or faster. In Xianyang, car drivers like to drive above the double-solid yellow lines, or most of the time, on the road to another direction. Right light is never respected. Cars come and go as if red light never exist. I would say, when the society is not transformed from bicycle-centric to car-centric, all these are acceptable. I am optimistic to say, the traffic rules will be better in the future or with the new generation growing up.

Traffic Assistants Help or Not

In Shanghai, at major cross streets, there are traffic assistant helping to keep the order in Shanghai. It works. As I discussed in my previous articles, people in China traditionally respect human-to-human relationship instead of human-to-rule relationship. Some people standing there helps to keep away from the red light.

Advice to New Drivers?

For people new to Shanghai, I don’t suggest him/her to drive at all. Shanghai’s public transportation is good enough, and you don’t need to waste time on the downtown road. To live in Pudong is another story – it is something like west U.S., where roads are wide, and traffic is less.

Radio Stations on Traffic Report

There is dedicate radio station on real time traffic report in Shanghai. It is Shanghai Traffic Radio, at AM 648. As a matter of fact, the advertisement price for traffic radio is among the highest in all radio stations in Shanghai, because the target audience are thought to be richer. There is no traffic helicopters or anything like that in Shanghai.

Road Guides at City Entrance

There are many road guides at the major entrance to the city from expressway. They just wait at the toll station, and show a big plate saying “Road Guide 带路”. They are picked up to give directions. It is the same in Hangzhou.

In the recent years, many people living in Shanghai visit Hangzhou by car, and people from other regions visit Shanghai. They have no idea about road at all. The road system in Shanghai is too complicated with so many single-direction roads, and new roads. Map does not help at all, since the road is changing all the time. First time drivers may try to drive to the destination by themselves, but for the second time, many will choose the road guide, because it is cheaper than the fine ticket policeman gave, and save one or two hours. It is the same for people entering Hangzhou. I didn’t used one yet.

They are called “Zhiye Dailu” 职业带路人 or professional road guides. According to this report, they charge 20 – 30 RMB per guide, and sometimes in good seasons, they can provide service to 7-8 cars.

However, it is explicitly illegal for them to provide the service.

In Shanghai toll gates, free road guide service is provided to drivers, that people can ask for directions there. However, I doubt without a real person on board, it is too easily to get lost in Shanghai.

Small Incidents

In Shanghai, when small incidents happens, many people will argue and attract many passengers to gather and watch.

In the recent two years, there are regulations and guidelines issued to help solve this problem. When it is clear who is responsible to the accident, the regulation requires both parties to leave the street, especially elevated highways, as quick as possible, and call policeman. Policeman is required to arrive within 5 minutes in downtown, 8 minutes outside outer ring, and deal with the incident within the next 15 minutes. That means, from small incidents to both parties can go, it should be within 20 to 23 minutes.

I never heard of the insurance cards in LAX.

Who is Responsible?

The regulations changes from year to year. Once, there are rules in other cities that when car hit pedestrian, if it is pedestrian’s fault, the car drivers don’t need to be responsible for that. Recently, the rules changed back to the original version: If cars hit people, no matter whose fault it is, car drivers will be punished. The difference is, if it is the car driver’s fault, the punishment is more severe.

Drivers are required to stop or slow down before pedestrians. I applause for this new enforcement of laws.

13 thoughts on “Traffic in Shanghai

  1. Shanghai could learn a lot from Nanjing. About a year ago I was there and the countdown clocks at the intersections made me feel so much safer than Shanghai trying to cross a street as a pedestrian.. Nanjing stop lights also make it very clear when you can go left or right (as a driver). It does make the traffic move more smoothly.

    Yes, I know that Shanghai is starting to do the “countdown” clocks. But you gotta know, The Shanghai drivers have a different menatlity and it will take them time to learn it.

    I have also noticed that since the Shenyang (with the MBA and lost her job) bitch who got busted… many Shanghainese are becoming aware of why jaywalking is just not right.

    10 days in detention courtsey of your local PSB, Not fun.


  2. “If cars hit people, no matter whose fault it is, car drivers will be punished”? Even on the highways or some other places where the pedestrians are not allowed to be by the exact same traffic law? How can people drive with such rules?

  3. “…but I think it is the natural steps to get used to a car-centric world.”

    there in lies the problem… why does china think it needs to transform into a ‘car-centric’ type of world? why not design/plan cities to be more ‘pedestrian-centric’? why not be more innovative/forward thinking when laying out a city and encourage people to live where they work or work where they live? build the city around public transportation and public spaces.

    i just got back from shanghai and fell in love with the city because it is still very much a walking city. unfortunately i saw the changes occuring as well… i’m not saying the automobile isn’t important… however it shouldn’t be the FIRST mode of tranportation. going long distances, a car is definitely needed… but going a few blocks? the chinese should learn from the western mistakes instead of copying it. pudong is a perfect example where they have failed in my opinion… very car-centric.

    having said that… yes it is important to educate on the ‘rules’ of the road. however, it is equally important to educate on the affects such ‘car centric’ thinking has on society and the environment. educate in the benefits of public transportation or carpooling. walk, ride a bike, take public transportation/carpool, take a taxi… and as a last option… drive. of course, in reality, such fundamental shifts in thinking won’t occur in my lifetime… it’s sad watching it occur in china. (bike lanes being removed to widen roads or make parking spaces, superhighways built, banning bicycles/scooters from some roads, etc…)

  4. A little known fact… Shanghai was the first city in the world to install traffic stop lights. It was installed by the British. The jaywalking problem was so bad that the British had to do something about it. Hence, the first traffice stop light in the world.


  5. To JH. Think of it this way: In New York City if pedestrians that have a walk sign had to wait for cars turning, there are too many cars and they would never get across. Now think of a part of world with a lot more pedestrians than cars. If the cars didn’t get to go first, and had to wait for the hundreds of people crossing the street, they would never get a chance to turn.

    Trouble is, in Shanghai, there are now a lot of cars and a lot of people, so fearless traffic assistants help everyone and yell at people who don’t obey even if they are driving huge trucks. It really helped to know that pedestrians may not always have the right of way at a crossing when I was in Shanghai last year. I think the really scary thing is riding a bike in Shanghai.

  6. I think driving in China has improved dramitically over the last couple years. Taxis are still a thrill ride but they get handed down hefty fines for running lights now.

    My first impressions of it about 5 years ago was that traffic lights and lane markings are only there for cosmetic reasons. It is merely a suggestion as to what a driver *should* do.

  7. The law of traffic rules are enforced by the policement. People who go at red lights will be fined. Meanwhile, drivers turning right at red lights, and push pedstrains asaid are also fined. It is good begining.

  8. “”If cars hit people, no matter whose fault it is, car drivers will be punished”? Even on the highways or some other places where the pedestrians are not allowed to be by the exact same traffic law? How can people drive with such rules?” <- In the Netherlands we have similar rules, only then it’s not only for the pedestrians but also for the ones on a bicycle… car drivers are responsible, no matter what :/

    Still, I think these are good rules, even though I’m a car driver myself… it would become far more dangerous if they didn’t had these rules

    and still a pedestrian isn’t safe when he crosses the road in Shanghai… somehow I love the traffic over there ^^

  9. Hi Jianshuo

    How much are the fines for crossing red light, or outside the pedestrian crossings ?

    Is it only in Shanghai, or “China-wide” ?

  10. It is only for Shanghai. I thought it was 5 RMB per violation before. The fine was increased a little bit, but should not be higher than 50 RMB. I didn’t check it after the increasing. It is only for Shanghai.

  11. Something unreasonable in Shanghai trafic rules is not I care for,instead,what I pay attention to is how to improve it gradually.I don’t wanna see only after serious accidents happened did some rules changed.

  12. “If cars hit people, it’s the driver’s fault” That is just retarded. What if a pedestrian wants some money? They can just ride a bicycle and crash into a car. Tada! Instant $$! How can you ever like that law?

  13. A person earned a million RMB for wrecking other people’s Lamborghinis, ferraris, Aston martins, etc. The pedestrians don’t even need to pay the price to fix the fucking cars! I don’t get why ANYONE would like that. A person wrecking cars and earning the driver’s money as a ‘fine’.

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