The town mentioned here is where the Healing Home is located that I volunteer with in Love Without Boundaries. I hope to visit it while we are in China, I'd better steel up my nerves now!
Kunming ranks number 28 among Chinese cities in total population. However, according to one source, Kunming ranks number 5 in private automobile ownership. Kunming is adding approximately 900 new vehicles on the road per day.
Most of these vehicles are operated by drivers with less than three years driving experience. Their primary ‘driving’ experience comes from riding a bicycle. Therefore, they drive a car in much the same way they would ride a bike.
As a result, the traffic in Kunming is horrible. One well-traveled Chinese friend told me that Kunming ranks second for the inglorious distinction of having the worst traffic conditions in China. Beijing ranks number one, of course, as Beijing strives to be first in everything.
How can one navigate the crazy Kunming traffic?
For roadside assistance, we turn to our Kunming Traffic Guru (KTG).
Q: How long have you been driving a motor vehicle in Kunming?
KTG: Over 6 years now.
Q: Can you explain some of the basic rules of the road, such as traffic lights?
KTG: Certainly. Traffic lights are quite simple.
Green means ‘Go’.
Yellow means ‘Go very fast’.
Red means ‘Proceed with caution’.
If you have government license plates, traffic lights do not apply.
Q: Please explain One-Way streets rules.
KTG: On a one-way street, all cars and trucks are to be facing the same direction; hence ‘One-Way’. Most vehicles travel that direction. But if one desires to travel the opposite direction, he/she has two options:
1. Drive in reverse, thus keeping the vehicle facing the One-Way direction.
2. Move onto the sidewalk where you can drive opposite of street traffic.
Q: Isn’t it dangerous to drive on the sidewalk? What about pedestrians?
KTG: Sidewalks are not for pedestrians. “The sidewalk is where one washes one’s hair or cleans one’s teeth.” (direct quote from a Kunming resident) The sidewalk is also where children and nauseous bus passengers relieve themselves.
Q: Where do people walk?
KTG: In the street, of course. No vomit there.
Q: How is the term ‘yield’ defined in Kunming?
KTG: The amount of a specific crop produced on a specific area of land. But that is an agricultural question.
Q: How is the term ‘speed limit’ interpreted?
KTG: Speed limit is the SPEED your car can travel when the gas pedal is pressed as hard as possible as LIMITed by the floor board.
Q: Does Kunming have vehicle emission standards?
KTG: It is fairly standard for public buses and trucks to spew clouds of black diesel fumes. So I suppose the answer is ‘yes’.
Q: Isn’t there any concern for the environment?
KTG: We do see environmentally friendly vehicles. Typically this is a donkey pulling a cart. These carts are ‘ORGANIC’ but not ‘LOW EMISSIONS’.
Q: Is there criteria as to what conditions make a vehicle unsafe to drive?
KTG: Yes. If the car or truck has no horn to blast pedestrians, then the vehicle is considered unsafe to drive.
Q: What would make a driver unsafe to operate a motor vehicle?
KTG: If the driver cannot honk the horn, then he/she is not safe to drive.
Q: Is it legal to use a mobile phone while driving?
KTG: Using a cell phone while driving is not only allowed, but you earn extra skill points if you can smoke a cigarette, talk on the phone, and drive a stick shift all at the same time.
Q: How do you personally deal with the challenges of driving in Kunming?
KTG: I ride my bike as much as possible. I just have to be careful to avoid the sidewalk and donkey cart ’emissions’.
On a more serious note, the Chinese government reported 100,000 traffic fatalities in 2010. The WHO has stated the true number of traffic related deaths in China to be closer to 250,000 making it the leading cause of death in China.