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The big self-experiment: driving a car in China

Mercedes
Self-test driving a car in China
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S They are so densely packed that there is no sheet of paper in between fits. Nobody cares, at least not a local. Heads down. Collective. What looks like a gesture has a different reason. One that modern society knows only too well: the eyes seem to sink into a white light. As soon as the doors of the subway close, the only thing that counts for people is their smartphone. Everyday life in Shanghai.

Anyone who uses public transport in China at rush hour experiences this every time. The locals look at their cell phones almost like a part of their body and use it at least twice as often a day as we do - on the other hand, we are not smombies (SMS zombies) in Germany, as a jury wanted us to know with the youth word in 2015 , but rather Smeens (SMS Teens). People pass the unattractive train journey by chatting, surfing or shopping on the Internet - the Chinese have a routine in killing time.

Driving in China is regulated by the state

What is left for them also other things. Not everyone in China can drive a car, which is not due to ability. Rather, because freedom on four wheels is a state-regulated story. Unlike in Germany, you can't just register a car, people “have to submit an application,” says the young Chinese who introduces himself as Adam. His real name is too difficult to pronounce for a European - hence plain and simple: Adam. All right then. The man from Shanghai with the English name says that the applications for a vehicle number plate can take time. He was lucky, he has a car. On the other hand, a good friend from Beijing has been waiting for the allocation for four years, even though the money is there.

Mercedes
Before you get behind the wheel as a foreigner in China, you have to prove your driving ability and wait. In Chinese authorities it is like at public festivals.

A foreigner does not care. He has other worries, because in the land of smiles you can't just sit behind the wheel of a car despite having a valid driver's license from your home country. That promises a lot of trouble, because the Chinese authorities are not kidding. Moving a vehicle without a proven suitability - that is sometimes not possible. Ok, that's why there is a foreign driver's license, which every road traffic office in Germany is happy to issue for a fee. Nobody is interested in China, however. This is just printed paper with little informative value. In China, the foreigner must prove that they are fit to drive. A provisional driving license is sufficient for a stay of up to three months. It takes almost half a day to get it after going through the bureaucracy, a medical check and a sex education class.

Mercedes
After about half a day you have your Chinese driver's license in your hands.

Only then can you get behind the wheel of a car put - behind the steering wheel of a rental car, more is not allowed. Fortunately, there is a Mercedes E-Class ready. Not just any, but a version that does not exist in Germany. On the one hand, it is 14 centimeters longer, on the other hand, the interior comes from the S-Class. This is how people like to travel in China. But the joy about it doesn't last long, as soon as you set off, the propulsion comes to a standstill - traffic jam. The realization is ripening that state regulation has a profound reason.

Mobility is growing rapidly

And so it is. Many are able to afford a car because economic growth, especially in recent years, has fueled prosperity. This development also took place in Germany during the economic miracle, but the pace in China is significantly higher than the country's infrastructure can handle. Traffic jams in cities are agonizing everyday life. They cost time - a lot of time. A fewFigures make this very clear: In our country, the through speed in road traffic is 50 km /h, in China, however, only 29 km /h. While in Germany we sit in the vehicle for just 50 minutes a day, the Chinese spend almost two hours in the car - that's the case in almost every big city, of which there are a few in China: 304 have more than a million inhabitants, 31 even more than eight million. For comparison: In Germany there are only four cities that exceed the million mark. Perhaps it should be noted that the population of the Middle Kingdom, at 1.4 billion people, is around 17 times larger than here and still almost twice as large as in the whole of Europe.

The field of tension could not be greater be in the metropolises. The state saw itself challenged to do something about it and has come up with some ideas. There are the access restrictions: The state regulates exactly which license plates are allowed to drive and when, to make it easy, attention is paid to the last digit - a distinction is made between even and odd numbers. You also have to bring a lot of money, because the license plate costs 100,000 yuan depending on the city, the equivalent of around 13,000 euros. Even if the funds are in place, it does not mean that the allocation will be immediate. The license plates are assigned after a quota, which explains the waiting times. With around 20 million new registrations, there is a cap, which in contrast to our three million annual vehicle registrations still sounds incredible. Not so in China, where it is assumed that around 700 million would like to drive their own car. If this goal is achieved, the Middle Kingdom would have a vehicle density similar to that of Germany, which is currently 560 cars per 1,000 inhabitants. There is still time to go before that happens - China has only 75 cars per 1,000 inhabitants. This gives the state time to adapt the infrastructure to the onslaught.

Mercedes
In China, scooters are electric. Sometimes you have to be on your feet quickly because of the noiseless drives if you don't want to be knocked over.

Nothing works without courageTraffic

And that's a good thing. Even now, driving through the cities demands a lot of patience. It is hard work for Germans who do not agree with the rules. Much consideration is not taken. Make space in a friendly way? Nothing! Zipper process? What's this? Nobody in China is waiting for a gap. Since the traffic tries to always stay in the flow, those waiting at the intersections and junctions adapt - they honk and just drive off. A horn comes back from the person who had to brake. That's it, nothing more happens.

On the other hand, it does have something to do with luck not being involved in an accident with one of the countless scooter drivers in the cities. There are more than cars, with around 200 million units in traffic, twice as many. The noiseless drivers rarely obey the rules - noiselessly because only e-scooters are on the road in China. But here, too, the following applies: honking the horn always helps.

This is one of the biggest concerns in city traffic, but the fear of fines is low in the slow-moving traffic. The often permitted 60 km /h is rarely reached. That saves money, because speeding is quickly punished. Speed ​​cameras are installed everywhere in the metropolises. Drivers - and this also includes foreigners - can allow themselves exactly twelve points in Chinese traffic, then the driver's license is gone and retraining is due. Outside the cities, traffic density is rapidly decreasing. Here you can collect points quickly if you don't stick to the 120 km /h on the highways. Driving in China is an experience.

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