The Driving License Test: Some Insight Into Poor Chinese Driving Habits

by Bucko on September 17, 2012

Sometimes navigating the Chinese legal system is like... well, reading Chinese!

Now, this is by no means scientific, just simply a theory I’m putting forward based on observations I made recently while applying to get my American motorcycle/car license converted to a Chinese one. For those who are not familiar with the chaos that is driving on Chinese roads, check out our post from a few months ago, The Illustrated Rules of the Road When Driving in China, and for those of you who do know, it’s quite an entertaining little cartoon to read regardless :).

Below I go through some of the points that really stuck out for me as I went through the license application process. I’ll let the reader form his/her own conclusions (which we’d love to hear in the comments below!).

The Health Check-up

Basically, the whole process for getting a license is all a little convoluted, at least the parts I went through (I only had to do the written test, not the practical). For starters, I couldn’t use my visa application’s medical report for my traffic application since apparently I could only go to a hospital from the approved list (apparently the central government’s immigration health inspection center isn’t good enough for the traffic bureau). When I got to the hospital for my checkup I was lead around a corner to a tiny closet of a room where a woman gave me a color blindness test and then she asked me my height. Since I had forgotten my height in metric units, the number I ended up giving was a couple centimeters off. At least this was an approved hospital though right!

Study, Study, Study

So with my full application and health form in hand, I was able to formally register to take the written test, and this is where it gets really interesting. Back home in the US, to prepare for your written test, you’re given a small booklet that has the rules of the road for your state: street signs, speed limits, driving in adverse conditions, etc. In China though, it’s different. Instead of the rules, you’re just given a list of about 900 questions from which 100 will be drawn for your actual test. The biggest problem with this strategy in my opinion though is that about 50% of the questions are true or false, and the answer to approximately half of those is of course false. What this means is that for roughly 25% of the test questions, you don’t actually know the right answer! This could of course lead us into a discussion of the efficacy of the Chinese style of education with a focus on rote memorization and raw test scores rather than creative thinking, but lets just focus on the driving test for now.

The Questions

As I started going through the questions while I was studying, I realized how entertaining some of them were and how they would make for some good blog post content. So I marked down some of the better ones and have shared them below for your reading pleasure. For some of my favorites I’ve also included links to easily share them on twitter!

  1. Know Your Role

    For some reason, there is an undue amount of time spent in the test questions on essentially testing whether or not you know how OTHER people are supposed to do their jobs. This includes: police and traffic officers, paramedics, and firefighters.

    For example, in this one, you need to know how the department is supposed to notify you if you are unable to “verify the fact of a traffic accident:

    If the party fails to report a traffic accident to the police on the spot and requests the traffic control department of the public security organ afterwards to handle the accident but fails to provide the evidence, the traffic control department of the public security organ should ________ if it is unable to verify the fact of the traffic accident.
    A. Refuse to accept the case
    B. Notify the party by telephone to file a civil action with the people’s court
    C. Notify the party in writing to file a civil action with the people’s court.
    D. Report the case to the traffic control department of the public security organ at the higher level for handling
    Answer: C.

    Or this one about how to treat bleeding in an upper limb:

    When there is a bleeding in an upper limb or shank without bone fracture or joint damage, the bleeding can be stopped by ________.
    A. Tourniquet
    B. Compression dressing
    C. Cushioned limb folding
    D. Pressure bondage
    Answer: C

    Then there are questions on how a fireman should put out specific types of fires:

    When putting out a fire disaster that gives out erosive steam or poisonous gas, the firefighters should wear gas masks and other related protective articles and should operate from the windward side.
    Answer: Right

    I don’t remember any of these types of questions on my American driver’s test… Also, for anyone with any experience with Chinese paramedics and the like, you may have also had the same sneaking suspicion as I did: that many of them may not have had to take this test before getting certified.

  2. Pointing Out The Obvious

    Then there are a lot of questions where they are just pointing out the obvious, questions clearly aimed at attempting to change common behavior on the roads, such as:

    When discovering a vehicle requiring help while driving, the driver should _______.
    A. Reduce speed and stop to give help
    B. Speed up and pass
    C. Ignore it
    D. Find an excuse to reject
    Answer: A

    When another driver asks directions while driving, the driver should _______.
    A. Ignore it
    B. Answer with patience
    C. Find an excuse to reject
    D. Answer for a pay
    Answer: B

    What? You mean you AREN’T supposed to ask for money in return for giving directions?

    Depressing the accelerator pedal reduces the rotation speed of the engine and releasing the pedal increases the rotation speed of the engine.
    Answer: Wrong

    Is it just me or should that have been covered in the practical test?

    Sample Chinese driver’s test question: Does pressing the accelerator make you go faster or slower? Click to Tweet

  3. The Obvious Rules That Clearly No One in China is Following

    These are just a few of the many from the list of potential test questions, which, though you apparently have to know the answer to get your license, almost no one in the country seems to retain these common sense rules once they actually get their certification.

    For example, there’s congested intersection etiquette:

    When the green light at a congested intersection is on, the vehicles _______.
    A. May directly enter the intersection
    B. Cannot enter the intersection
    C. Enter the intersection if it is safe to do so
    D. May pass the intersection by borrowing the opposite lane.
    Answer: B

    Or this one about the dress code for when you are driving a vehicle:

    In hot weather, the driver may drive a vehicle barebacked, barefooted or wearing slippers.
    Answer: Wrong

  4. Knowing Your Hand Signals

    This one just baffled me. I did a double take when I got to the second question/image and checked multiple times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. It turns out I wasn’t.

    The hand signal of the traffic police in the picture is _______.
    A. A signal for pulling over
    B. An auxiliary signal for turning right
    C. A signal for turning left gently
    D. A signal for turning right
    Answer: C

    And then several questions down, there’s this one:

    The hand signal of the traffic police in the picture is _______.
    A. A signal for pulling over
    B. A signal for slowing down
    C. An auxiliary signal for stopping
    D. A signal for turning right
    Answer: D

    That’s not a mistake. Those are two different pictures from two different questions on the test.

    Chinese traffic hand signal for turning left and right are apparently exactly the same!
    Click to Tweet!

  5. Help Me, I’m Drowning!

    Now, I don’t know for sure when these questions were added, but given the number of questions related to your car falling in water all with almost the exact same answer, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were added after the recent major floods that hit Beijing earlier in the year.

    When a running vehicle suddenly falls into water, the driver should _______ to escape.
    A. Immediately open the door and jump out of the vehicle
    B. Open the door and swim out after the vehicle stabilizes in water
    C. Use feet to smash the window and swim out after the vehicle stabilizes in water
    D. Close the window and make telephone calls for help
    Answer: C

    Followed by…

    When a vehicle falls into water, the method that can be selected for self-rescue is to_______.
    A. Smash the window glass
    B. Close the windows
    C. Make telephone calls for help
    D. Open the door
    Answer: A

    And in case you didn’t realize that you shouldn’t be using your phone when you’re drowning…

    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
    Answer: B

    So for the record, phone calls are not a good idea, but I didn’t see anything about posting a picture of your sinking car on Weibo or Instagram!

    This is my personal favorite from this section though. Notice that the question is asking which is the WRONG way and then pay attention to what is included in the CORRECT strategies

    After a vehicle falls into water, the wrong method for the driver to rescue himself is to ________.
    A. Close the window to prevent water from flowing into the vehicle
    B. Immediately use hand to open the door
    C. Let the water to fill up the driver’s cab so that the water pressure both inside and outside is equal
    D. Use a large plastic bag to cover the head and tight the neck closely
    Answer: A


    Chinese Traffic Bureau actually recommends to put a plastic bag over your head if your car is sinking
    Click to Tweet

Hilariously, this is really just a taste of what’s on the test. There are somewhere around 900 questions, some of them decent, but many of them are similar to the ones highlighted above. There is also a problem sometimes with wording, when the “Chinglish” shines through occasionally in the English translation, making it difficult to interpret what answer they’re looking for. I think the worst part of this whole test though is that you’re expected to get 90% or better to pass and get your license! Now my question is, what is the result when you put such a large emphasis on people needing to put their energy into rote memorization of answers to questions (not even the actual rules), rather than practical driving skills…? (Here is the link again to get an idea)

For those of you actually interested in getting your Chinese driver’s license, I plan on putting together a detailed post on all the steps I needed to take to get my American license transferred to a Chinese one, including a downloadable version of the practice material (normally 90RMB), the locations of “approved” hospitals for your check up, and cheat sheets of important questions to memorize.

And as a closing note, a friendly reminder from the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau:

When rescuing a wounded person who has been poisoned by toxic gas, the first measure is to send him to a place where air is fresh so that he will not continue to be poisoned.

  • Dave

    LOL the plastic bag one is great. Also even though all the questions before said NOT to open the door, that’s listed as one of the correct actions… sigh… I remember the frustrations of that test :D

    • Bucko

      Yeah, the contradictions really are littered throughout the test.

  • blinded

    Whose bright idea was it to have grey text on a black background?

    • Bucko

      Hey, thanks for the comment. That’s left over from the theme’s old stylings for block quotes, though we hadn’t gotten a comment on it before. I made the grey a little lighter so hopefully it’s a little easier on the eyes.

  • Dan

    wow, well done. Great post. It is amazing the kinds of things they put on there. To be fair, I remember some of the questions on the US test being almost just as bad.

    The plastic bag one is by far the best. Maybe they think that it’s better to quickly suffocate than to drown?! My mom always told me NOT to put a plastic bag over my head. Who would have thought her rule could one day leave me unable to properly kill myself in a sinking car!

    • Bucko

      Yeah exactly. Must be a cultural thing!

  • Marije

    Wow, a plasic bag? I took the test in oktober last year, so weay before the floods of this summer and I can confirm that those questions were not in the test back then, as I surely would have remembered those! I saw many of the same illogicalities that you saw, and another that had me quite confused:
    “When one has priority but another vehicle cuts in, one should:

    C: reduce speed and evade, or stop to yield.

    I understand this rule is made to prevent the occuring of damage. But I
    wonder how this works within the law? What if the driver who has
    according to law priority, does not stop and has an accident? Where does
    the blame -and thus the bill- go? To the person who didn’t follow the
    rulebook but did have priority, or to the person that didnt have
    priority to begin with?

    And is this kind of diffuse handling of traffic situations maybe one of the reasons why Beijing traffic is the way it is?

    (Those of you who paid attantion of course know how to handle a situation like this one. Right. Indeed. You HONK!!)

    • Bucko

      Definitely. There were tons of weird questions throughout, which I was marking as I went along through the test. Unfortunately, I thought it would make this post way too long to put them all in so I thought I’d share my favorites and let others add in their own. So, thanks for sharing the one that stuck in your memory! It’s also interesting to know that those “sinking car” questions are new.

  • Telihana

    Plastic bag one definitely the best. Who thinks of these things?!!
    I think they forgot to put the guy’s hand in because he’s supposed to be making different signals? Too confusing otherwise… why remove the hand from the arm?!!
    Fun read :) xx

    • Bucko

      Glad you liked it!

      I heard that apparently in the Chinese version they explain that that signal is actually for stopping, so it’s like a three way mistake- left turn is wrong, right turn is wrong, and no one knows that they’re actually supposed to stop! (not to mention that everyone will be turning in different directions).

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