Driving on the leftright in China

This was written in flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco

Blognosticator Head

When we traveled to mainland China yesterday in the charter bus, we enjoyed the countryside, surprisingly nice roads, and views out of the windows of tall apartment buildings, large factories and small workshops along the roadside.

I sat in the front of the bus to be able to look out the windshield, see highway signs, and to observe the flow of traffic. I was fascinated.

Highway signs in China

This is the view out the windshield of our bus in mainland China yesterday. I have no idea what the Chinese signs say, but the English is set in the correct font (ISO Highway Bold).

Cars were in good condition, a sign of careful driving. There were almost no dented cars or cars that showed any signs of collisions. And though our bus driver was quite aggressive, his driving never worried me or caused much of a commotion on the highway. Once in a while someone would toot their horn at us as we changed lanes or attempted a turn off.

In Hong Kong, a former British colony, they drive on the left, steer from the right. This has always been so. In China they drive on the right, steer from the left. I don’t know if this is something new, or if it was always this way.

When you drive from Hong Kong to mainland China you have to switch sides of the road, and this was fascinating to watch. Our driver was ambidriverous; he could drive just as skillfully on either side of the road. I have driven on the left in England a few times, and I find it frightening because I am usually the one making the mistake of lanes.

We had moments of difficulty at the toll plazas. Close to the Hong Kong border there were some lanes with toll-takers (or machines) on the right, and some with the toll-takers on the left. Our driver moved into the appropriate lane for the correct toll-taker, and we didn’t miss a beat. On the return trip we passed along several toll roads well inside China, and the driver occasionally had to stop the bus, get out of his seat, walk across the coach, then negotiate the toll or the ticket through a small porthole in the middle of the left door.

The governments of Hong Kong and China figured out how to switch the side of the road in the middle of the customs area, delivering vehicles over elevated roadways into the correct lanes for the approaching border. It’s essentially a big criss-cross of over- and-underpasses. When you drive out the other end you’re on the opposite side of the road. The trick, I am sure, is remembering which lane to turn into.

Our driver maneuvered this perfectly, and brought us back safely to our point of origin. Overall it was a great experience.


About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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