I recently just got into my very first accident (with another vehicle at least), not just in China but ever. I suppose it was a matter of time though given the negligence of Chinese drivers. This accident however, luckily, was not with a car but with an electric scooter, with two riders, going the wrong way down a 6-lane road outside of my office. I figured I would take the opportunity to not only relate my experience but also help people who may also find themselves in this unfortunate situation some day.
I was pulling out of the driveway that was the exit from my office, after a full day of work on a Friday evening. As I mentioned, this was a 6 lane, very busy road, so the traffic moves fast, often, and without hesitation. So I stayed cautious, looking left to make sure the coast was clear until the oncoming traffic had all moved by when I started to pull out into the bus lane before fully accelerating into the road. I started to look right just before fully turning the throttle and shifting up when I noticed out of the corner of my eye two Chinese men barreling full speed the wrong way down the bus-lane and before I knew it I was on the ground in the middle of this very busy road in the middle of rush hour.
My engine was still accelerating for a bit before it finally ground to a halt. I looked left down the road about 10 or 20 feet and there was the scooter and the two passengers laying on the ground. As they were driving full speed, they had driven right through the front of my bike ending on the other side and partially into the next lane over. The passenger got up quickly enough but the driver was looking around blankly with his leg under the bike. Seeing as how we were in the middle of the street, the first thing I did was get up (noticing that I wasn’t hurt) picked up my bike and moved it out of the way, noticing that the front fork was turned left off its axis, the turn signal was in pieces and gas was coming out of the top of the tank from the gas cap (I later learned that moving the bike first thing was probably the wrong thing to do, but more on that later). I tried to yell in Chinese at the driver of the scooter to get up but he continued to stare blankly turning to look at his leg occasionally. So I ran over to his scooter and moved it out of the middle of the road as well, which finally prompted him to get out of the road. This is about when the arguing started.
I was surveying my bike when he started gesturing to his leg. I looked at it and could see that it was sufficiently battered and bloodied. Nothing looked broken however but he was feigning a bit of a limp, making sure to keep his pant leg rolled up so everyone could see the blood. In Chinese he started yelling at me, “What are you going to do about my leg? What are you going to do about my vehicle?” to which I would reply that it wasn’t my problem because he was driving down the wrong side of the road. At this point a curious crowd of Chinese was forming, intent on watching a foreigner arguing with a Chinese. A couple of locals chimed in in my defense telling him that I was right, he shouldn’t have been driving that way. One lady then realized this guy was hopeless and told me to call my insurance and the police and let them deal with it. I agreed and started to ignore my instigators’ continued yells, and first called my friend, David, who was still in the office above and whose Chinese was much better than mine.
While we waited, the crowd started to thin out. When David arrived, most of the people were gone other than a couple curious workers. David started to quickly survey the situation, got our sides of the stories, realized the guys on the scooter were not going to give in and called the cops (1-1-0 in China instead of 9-1-1). Just as David was calling, the driver of the scooter suddenly came over and started saying not to worry about it, just forget it, there was no need for the police. Odd given how insistent he had been 5 minutes earlier. After about 20 or 30 minutes the police car finally arrived. He first asked the other guy what had happened, to which he started explaining how he was driving down the road from the wrong direction when the cop immediately stopped him to ask again which way he was coming from, and when he got the same answer the cop just said, “So you were going down the wrong side of the road.” When the “but”s started coming the cop kept on interrupting emphasizing the obviousness of who was at fault. Soon the driver’s passenger piped in and started explaining how I was stopped at the exit as they were coming down the road and the cop again interrupted him and asked, “If he was stopped, how did he hit you?” And so, as quickly as they had been obstinately insisting on their innocence, the two on the scooter were quiet, with the driver curiously rolling his pant leg back down over his leg wound and the limp strangely starting to disappear.
My friend David, then asked the policeman out of curiosity who would take care of the repairs for my bike if it was indeed the other driver’s fault. To this the policeman took David aside and rather forcefully explained to us what the situation was. If I wanted to “go down that path” we would have to call my insurance, and since I was a motorcycle, which qualified as a car, and his a scooter, which qualified as a bike, it would be my insurance who would be responsible for all repairs and medical expenses. And this is how I got my lesson on “accident justice” in China.
Basically, in China, the bigger vehicle is always at fault. Had the other driver also been a motorcycle, he would have been entirely responsible for all repairs. However the rules don’t really cover the large range of sizes of vehicles that actually are on the road in China and thus you’re either classified as a car or a bike… and the bike always wins. My friend David had been in a similar situation a few years back where a bike literally ran into him while he was stopped. David got out of the car, helped him up and thought that was the end of it and went on his way. Soon he had been tracked down, the bike rider in a neck brace and David being charged with a hit and run. That brings us to the next rule…
Don’t leave the scene of the accident, even if it looks like everyone is ok and you were not at fault. There can be serious repercussions for leaving, namely jail time from which the only escape is paying off the victim (In David’s case, the rider of the bike wanted 20,000 RMB which is about $3,000 USD. They managed to bargain him down to 3,000 RMB). When you’ve been in an accident, make sure you stick around and call the cops, which in China is 1-1-0.
Be prepared for your argument. The mistake I made was thinking about safety first and getting us all out of the street. What I should have done was taken pictures of the whole scene exactly as it happened. Many people won’t even move the vehicles until the cops have arrived (this, in my opinion, is a major cause of much of Beijing’s congestion: stopped cars in the middle of busy intersections waiting for the police to arrive on the scene). Second, I should have gotten the phone numbers of a couple of witnesses. I was hoping they would stick around long enough and felt bad asking them to stay any longer than they needed to, but what I should have done is made sure we could contact them if the cops needed witnesses if our stories didn’t corroborate.
In the end, I was very lucky. If the other driver had been even a little more informed he would’ve known about the “car v. bike” situation, and would have pushed harder for compensation. I was also lucky as not only did I not have insurance, which the cop hinted he assumed to be the case, but since my license plate had been previously stolen, I had no physical plate nor a proper driver’s license. None of these the police officer made any effort to investigate, probably because of the paper work it would entail for him. But all of the these things, had the other driver been observant enough to recognize could have meant trouble for me, including large payouts, a large amount of time spent at hospitals as I would have to personally escort him for his damages, and even the confiscation of my bike. But, I was lucky, so as soon as the case seemed closed, I got out of there as quickly as possible and pushed my crooked bike down to the office garage for it to be stored until I could manage to hobble over to my mechanic and have everything straightened out.