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.


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4 Responses to “Driving slower in HK”
  1. Dad says:

    Great to read about traffic in HK, Traffic here has its problem too especially on the highway to Bris bane. The signs say to keep to the left unless you are overtaking and this means some people drive in and out instead of staying in the overtaking lane until you reach the futherest spot in the outside lane. if you are gradually overtaking and stay in that lane for some distance, other drivers get annoyed because they are driving faster than the limit.

    As for lights, some areas are so well lit that you do not need car lights on. I wonder why these lights are on all night, it must contribute to the "greenhouse affect and the costs are passed on to everyone.

  2. coffee81 says:

    It happens to Malaysia as well. The difference here is that no matter careful you are while driving, some people doesn't share the same view as you - they drive as if it's the Sepang Circuit. Sometimes I doubt their driving lisence, if it's for real.

  3. RIchard says:

    Hi again

    Last time my wife and I were in HK we were going to catch up with some of my wife's friends. Rather than another dinner, we decided to hire a Toyota Camry (exactly the same as one I had as a company car at home) and drove up to Sai Kung, beyond Dai Mei Duk, right along the border freeway to Yuen Long for dinner and then back to HK Island.

    I didn't find the traffic a problem, although we had to pick up a friend in Kowloon Bay and I couldn't figure the signs at one point, we were onto the freeway at one point and I didn't realise we had to get off in about 300m!

    I was a bit annoyed that my parent's-in-law's housing estate wouldn't let casual car visitors in - we eventually convinced them if I stayed at the wheel in idle while my wife went upstairs, but didn't actually park. No provision for casual parking eg meters or tickets.

    Anyway a great idea, some of those places in Sai Kung peninsula and beyond Dai Mei Duk are impossible to get to by PT without some bus charter worked out, and my group enjoyed it very much. Funny, they all happily did day trips in Australia but hadn't thought of doing it in HK.

    The Western Harbour Tunnel is very pricey although some roads in Australia getting that way - I think Sydney's M7 now costing about $HK60 for the full length.

    Renting a car in HK is not easy, I don't know why you can just rock up at the airport like anywhere else with hertz membership card etc(if people are stupid enough to want to drive round HK on holidays; let'em!)

    BTW don't let anyone tell you you shouldn't rent a car in Japan. We did and it was great! We also used rail travel for longer distances but in the Central Highlands we just drove round to all sorts of little places that foreigners (and most Japanese) just don't go.

  4. 河國榮 says:

    hi Richard.

    I really couldn't advise tourists to rent a car here in HK unless they really knew the roads. road signs are sub-optimal, usually placed too late to get into the right lanes. traffic lights can be confusing (inherited from the English). one-way streets everywhere! unless you know the roads well, there are places where even HK residents can get lost or trapped in an apparent road loop.

    if you were driving out in the urban areas as you were, renting a car might be feasible but definitely not in the city areas. it's taken me 15 years to get used to driving here and I can still get stuck ;-)