I’ve heard this phrase a lot, usually prefaced with the colloquial equivalent of “fornicating.” Never heard “black drivers” or “Mexican drivers” and certainly never heard “white drivers.” Used to hear “women drivers” a lot back in Texas.
I can’t testify as to whether Chinese drivers are worse than the general driving public. Traffic collision reports, from which collision statistics are generated, have a place for race but not for nationality. Also, my wife, who is a terrible driver but is Japanese, might get lumped in with Chinese drivers by angry cagers who witness one of her famous swoop-and-brake maneuvers.
What I can testify to is that I’m a really bad driver. I know this by process of elimination. I know about three good drivers — Manslaughter, Evens, and Derek — and I have nothing in common with any of them. Good drivers are like good bike handlers. They are fully aware at all times of the vehicle, its capacities, its limits, the road conditions, and the positions/behaviors of everyone around them.
That isn’t me. All I know is that shit is happening way too fast on the freeway and someone’s going to get hurt. And that’s at 65. Seventy mph is crazy, speed demon stuff.
So I slow down. Going slow, I’ve been told, is just as bad as going too fast. But since the people who say that are always in the passenger seat, I ignore them. If you want to go faster than 65, get out and walk.
On city streets I’m not a defensive driver, I’m a defensive fortification. Tons of room between me and the idiot in front. Turn signals. Hamster-like apprehension that there’s a hungry cat around every corner. Enough insurance to cover a major earthquake. And so although it’s possible that Chinese drivers are extra awful, I wouldn’t know since I’m always focused on staying alive, which means dealing with idiots of every race, color, creed, and bumper sticker. Careless, distracted, inattentive driving doesn’t seem to discriminate based on nation of origin. Everyone is distracted and angry and wants to kill me, and there’s only one of those three problems I can affect.
So you can imagine my surprise when I finally got to Chapter 25 in Book 2 of the New Practical Chinese Reader, 2nd Edition, and saw that the title was “The driver drove us to the hospital.”
Turns out that in addition to learning about the high speed trains in China and the Chinese New Year and how to ask for toilet paper when the roll runs out, the editors thought we’d also benefit from learning about traffic collisions.
Lina, an exchange student, was coming home from a movie with her pal, Xiao Yun, and they were coming home on bicycles. As soon as I saw “bicycles,” I knew how this story was going to end.
Lina and Xiao Yun were chatting and not paying attention and having a good old time when, making a right turn, Lina slammed into a parked delivery car. Fortunately, the kind driver took her to the hospital, paid for her medicine, and made sure she was okay before leaving his business card and returning to work.
Of course Lina’s admission of liability raised all kinds of questions. Was the driver legally parked? Did he have his flashers on? If she hit him immediately after turning, isn’t that prima facie proof that he was parked too close to the intersection? Was he in an unloading zone? Was there a local ordinance requiring him to put cones out? How long had he been parked there? Was he insured? Did he have a commercial license? Was he in the course and scope of his employment? Had his coverage lapsed? Did Lina have adequate UM/UIM coverage? Were there MedPay provisions in either policy?
The textbook didn’t say. Lina just made a big deal about how lucky she was that she’d hit the car rather than the other way around, a typical cyclist ploy. The injured rider is all stove up with a rod in his spine, a dick broken in three places, and a titanium plate in his skull, and all he can feebly say through his breathing tube, aside from “How’s my bike?” and “When can I get on the trainer?” is “It could have been worse.”
Well sure it could have been worse, that’s because you’re a cyclist and you’re terminally aware of the ultimate worst-of-all outcomes when you pedal a bike. But that doesn’t mean the jerk who was parked in front of a hydrant to unload a carton of condoms had the right to be there, or that your injuries are somehow better because they could have been worse.
Then Song Hua, the helpful chaperone who’s been squiring Lina through the textbook (I think he’s a government spy and they’re having a torrid affair), comes to see her at the hospital and praises the valiant driver for taking her to the hospital, as if there’s something special about having a shred of, you know, humanity.
One thing’s for sure, though, and this was the original point I wanted to make: When you’re riding a bike on the streets of Beijing, you’d sure as hell better watch out for the Chinese drivers.
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