Driving slower in HK

Filed in General, Hong Kong

Driving is a part of the culture that is Hong Kong. Most people don't drive because they cannot afford to buy a car, and public transport is pretty good even if it is controlled by government and large corporations with self-pointed motives. I have driven in Hong Kong for most of the 18 years that I've lived here and am now very used to it. That doesn't mean that driving here is easy for me but just that it's familiar.

When you drive in Hong Kong, one of the first things you realise is the attitude of other drivers. In particular, everyone seems to be in a rush. It's more noticeable when you return from a relaxing holiday as I just did. After driving in Queensland Australia for two weeks, driving here in Hong Kong just really got on my nerves. The worst thing about it though is that the rush attitude is contagious so even if you intend to take it easy and remind yourself that rushing might not even get you to your destination any faster, you'll still eventually end up rushing anyway. It's extremely difficult to avoid.

To increase the pressure of driving even more is the fact that there are now other things you can do while driving. The mobile phone probably takes first place in this category, allowing people to communicate and work while they're driving. I have friends who claim that talking on the phone does not affect their driving but I can't believe that. Personally, even with a hands-free accessory, it is still impossible to devote the majority of my attention to my driving while trying to listen, interpret and understand what the person on the phone is saying. Maybe I'm just dumber than the average driver. Who knows?

One thing we hope not to see when driving is traffic jams. This is a big city and despite the cost of car ownership, there are a lot of drivers here. Traffic accidents are going to happen whether you like it or not. What is especially curious though is how accidents on the other side of the road can affect the traffic on your side of the road. As the cars pass by the accident site, everyone slows down to get a good look at the cars involved in the accident. How many cars were involved? Was anyone hurt or killed? How much debris is there, and so forth. As soon as you get past the accident, the traffic speeds up again really quickly.

I also find it curious that one car stopped on the side of the road with a flat tire can cause three lanes of traffic to slow to a crawl. Surely those two extra lanes of traffic can handle all of the traffic for a short while without impeding speed too much.

And talking about things that slow down traffic in Hong Kong, I have to include street lights and rain. Almost every street and road in Hong Kong has lights and Hong Kong drivers are used to having those lights. So when the lights go out for whatever reason, or if perchance the people have to drive on streets without any lights, they slow down; a lot. On a major freeway running between Kowloon and Lowu on the Chinese border, the speed limit is for the most part 110km/hr. On a normal night, most people will drive at 110km/hr and a few will drive faster. If the lights are off though, most people will drop their speed to just 80 or 90km/hr. They are simply not used to driving without street lights.

If it rains, most people drop their driving speed a lot too. Usually, this is obviously a good thing because it reduces the number of accidents. Sometimes, it's not necessary though and being a driver from Australia where we are used to driving in whatever weather at whatever time, it can be a little frustrating. I have to admit though that there have been a few times when I've driven in rain so heavy that it was not possible to see more than 50 feet in front of the car. In such weather, you can only hope and pray that there aren't any clueless drivers in front of you neglecting to turn their lights on. Without their tail lights on, it's almost impossible to see them.

More about driving in Hong Kong later.