Shanghai Traffic Safety Tips

The dangers of Shanghai traffic are quickly apparent to most expats. However, some advice and information might be helpful to keep you safe.

After some tips below, we also provide information on the Shanghai traffic safety crackdown begun in 2016, the new traffic safety law implemented in 2017, the number of vehicles in Shanghai, and expats driving in Shanghai.

Shanghai Traffic Safety

Shanghai Traffic Safety Reminders and Tips

Reminders and tips for expats to cope with Shanghai traffic safety:

  • You will quickly learn that cars are the king of the road in Shanghai, while pedestrians are just moving obstacles for drivers to get around as quickly as possible. 
  • Always remember that the pedestrian light turning green does not mean ongoing cars will immediately stop. Running yellow lights is the norm here, so wait a few seconds and then check carefully before you begin to cross.
  • Drivers rarely stop before turning right on a red light to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Oncoming traffic turning left into your crosswalk will also not yield to you, so keep looking both directions as you cross the street.
  • Zebra crosswalks outside of intersections do exist in China, but don’t serve much purpose, as drivers will rarely stop when you are near or in one, so never take this for granted.
  • Apart from cars, Shanghai traffic is full of motor bikes and electric scooters; the preferred vehicle used by Shanghai food delivery men. They do not need to take a driving test, and seldom follow traffic rules. Often they will drive right through red lights, so be extra careful of them when crossing the street.
  • Many Shanghai pedestrians do not follow traffic rules themselves; crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red and jaywalking everywhere. 
  • It is common for Shanghai expats to get frustrated and downright angry when cars or motorbikes almost run them over while crossing the street. You might be tempted to teach the bad driver a lesson in etiquette, but it is strongly recommended you just be happy you were not hit and move along.

New Shanghai Traffic Rules

Fortunately the enforcement of Shanghai traffic regulations has improved greatly in the last few years.

In early 2016 the Shanghai government unleashed a powerful traffic safety campaign with thousands of traffic police being stationed at many intersections around the city to catch rule violators.

Results have been very impressive, with a drop of 24 percent in overall accidents, 14 percent in deaths and 47 percent in injuries between March and November 2016 over the same period in the previous year.

Shanghai authorities said this traffic campaign would run indefinitely, and certainly in 2017 there are still many more police at intersections around Shanghai than before the campaign started.

Other measures recently adopted to improve Shanghai traffic safety include:

Number of Vehicles in Shanghai

In 2015 there were 2.5 million registered vehicles in Shanghai, a figure that is growing by over 10 percent each year.

Moreover, there are an estimated 1.5 million more vehicles registered outside of the city on Shanghai roads everyday. Many of these owners reside in Shanghai, but are trying to avoid the very high registration fees, or have not yet been able to win one of the coveted licenses in Shanghai's monthly auction.

Cars without a local Shanghai license plate are not allowed to drive on the elevated expressways during rush hours, but are free to use other roads.

Shanghai Car Plate Auction System

Shanghai uses a monthly auction system to control the number of new cars on the road. In March 2013 the average auction price for one of the 9,000 available plates hit a record high of RMB 92,000 (US$15,000).

This price has been quite stable over the last few years with the average winning price in the May 2017 car plate auction in Shanghai at RMB 90,209 (US$13,106) for one of the 10,316 plates on offer.

Expats Driving in Shanghai

If you want to drive yourself, you also need to get used to many other common driving habits in China, including:

  • Tailgating
  • Turning the turn-signal on only when the car actually starts to turn
  • Switching lanes without looking in the rear-view mirror

You can check out this site for information on applying for a driver’s license in Shanghai.

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