It's an idea I've been toying with for the three years I've lived here. Neither I nor The Globe and Mail owns a car in Beijing – I've gotten by this far using taxis and the expanding Beijing metro system – but the idea of not being allowed to drive bothers me nonetheless. And foreign driver's licences aren't considered valid here.
The biggest barrier to me getting behind the wheel and joining Beijing's traffic jams has always been the legendary Chinese driver's licence test. I know grown men and women – veteran drivers who have negotiated roads elsewhere for decades without incident – who have been reduced to curses and tears by the, uh, quirky nature of some of the questions.
I have colleagues here who have taken the test four times without passing, while many Chinese do whatever they can to get their licences without taking the test. (Creating the havoc on the roads that I've written about before, where neither police nor drivers seem sure of the rules. Traffic accidents are unsurprisingly the leading cause of death for Chinese under the age of 45.
Why all the angst? Because the test (like exams in Chinese schools), is about putting critical thought – and your own experience aside and just memorizing the answers.
A few examples that I came across today in my studies:
220.127.116.11 When a vehicle encounters an emergency on an expressway, the driver should swiftly turn the steering wheel to evade.
The possibility that you might only have time to swiftly turn the steering wheel is not to be considered. Nor is the closed-ended nature of the question, which leaves you smashing into the "emergency" if you don't steer away. The answer is what Traffic Management Bureau of the Beijing Public Security Bureau says it is.
Often, the correct answer is the vaguest one.
18.104.22.168 When discovering people or animals crossing the expressway, the driver should ________.
A. Immediately apply emergency braking
B. Immediately turn right to evade
C. Take decisive measures to evade and minimize the loss
D. Immediately turn left to evade
And there's not much room for debate.
22.214.171.124 If the parties to a traffic accident have objection to the accident investigation report by the traffic police, they may file an administrative action to the people's court.
Chinese drivers are also expected to be unbothered by rising water.
126.96.36.199 After a vehicle falls into water, the wrong method is _______.
A. Smash the glass
B. Make telephone calls for help
C. Allow the water to slowly fill up the compartment
D. Open the window
And tough luck for those with spinal damage. Last to the hospital, but yanked onto their feet in the meantime:
188.8.131.52 When there many wounded persons, those who should be sent to hospital last are the persons ________.
A. Suffering cervical vertebra damage
B. Suffering massive haemorrhage
C. Suffering breathing difficulty
D. Whose intestines and veins are exposed
184.108.40.206 When removing a wounded person suffering spinal fracture, the rescuer should never help the wounded person to walk. He may be carried away with a soft stretcher.
Some questions seem to hint at the truth that there are those who don't need to follow the rules in China.
220.127.116.11 When going through a railway crossing with managerial personnel, the motorized vehicle should ________.
A. Pass at the normal speed
B. Obey the command of the managerial personnel
C. Speed up as fast as possible
D. Maintain a safe speed
Other questions appear to govern the registration of Transformers.
18.104.22.168 When a commercial motorized vehicle turns into a non-commercial one, the owner of the vehicle does not need to apply for registration with the traffic control department of the pubic security organ.
As with everything in China, contradictions are many.
22.214.171.124 If all lights of a vehicle on the road go off suddenly at night, the driver should _______.
A. Drive at reduced speed
B. Brake as fast as possible and stop where it is
C. Brake immediately and stop on the road side
D. Stop slowly under inertia
126.96.36.199 When all lights of a vehicle suddenly go off while running at night, the driver should immediately brake and stop.
There are a few I think I would have gotten right without studying.
188.8.131.52 The sign in the picture is designed to indicate the type of the vehicles specified in the main sign.
And a few I'll ponder forever.
184.108.40.206 The traffic control department of the public security organ should notify the driver who has violated the traffic regulations after drinking of the test result by telephone.
220.127.116.11 The picture is a crosswalk sign.