Staying safe in the face of driving ambitions
A growing number of Chinese tourists are planning road trips in the United States this year, but differences in traffic laws and driving etiquette pose potential pitfalls. Cao Yin reports.
TAs he the recent National National Day Day holiday holiday approaches provided and Chinesea growing traveling numberto theof Chinese United prepareStates anto take opportunityroad trips to in take the time United to States, potential acquaint visitors themselvesare being with urged the trafficto learn laws about and US automobiletraffic laws cultureand the of the country’sUS. auto culture.
The comments come after four Chinese tourists from Guangdong province were killed in July during a self-drive road trip in Arizona, when the driver failed to heed a stop sign and their vehicle was hit by a bus.
Failure to understand US road rules could potentially result in accidents, lawsuits, injuries and even death, according to experts.
Trips totheUSduringthe“goldenweek” of China’s seven-dayNational Day holiday, which starts on Oct 1, have become major money-spinners forChinesetourismagencies, and self-driving road trips are becoming increasingly popular.
Last year, 2.67 million Chinese visited the US as bilateral tourist trips hit 4.76 million, and the number is expected to rise to more than 5 million by the end of the year, according to the National Tourism Administration.
Meanwhile, statistics provided by China Youth Travel Service, one of the country’s largest tourism agencies, show that the number of Chinese planning to visit the US during the holiday has risen 30 percent from the same period last year.
About 45 percent of Chinese tourists to the US prefer not to travel as part of a group, and about 37 percent of them undertake unsupervised road trips, according to CYTS.
“Of all the tourist spots overseas, the US is the most popular destination,” said Xu Xiaolei, a CYTS spokesman. “With a better highway environment and automobile culture, the US is a dream destination for driving enthusiasts.”
Ge Mu, assistant president of Caissa Travel Management, an international tourism agency, said a growing number of clients are inquiring about driving holidays in the US.
The boom in Chinese tourism to the US has been triggered by the rise in living standards and the introduction of bilateral 10-year, multiple entry visas, which make it easier for Chinese citizens to travel to the country, she said.
As an example, Ge cited one clientwho has traveled overseas 20 times in the past four years, and has taken advantage of the relaxed visa policy to visit theUS seven times.
“When travelers are given more time in the US, most prefer to explore the country by themselves, especially on selfdriving road trips that allow them to discover scenic spots that group tours can’t reach,” she said.
In addition, car rental companies have flourished at home and abroad, which help Chinese tourists to verify that their driving licenses are acceptable overseas, recommend routes and provide translation services.
InJuly, Beijing residentLiuJingtookhis family on a road trip to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the West Coast highways in a car he rented in China.
“All the booking and rental procedures were easy because the car rental website I selected is in Chinese. First I registered, and then I submittedmy license,” he said. “Highways in the US are long, which makes them ideal for self-driving trips, and it’s OK if you take the wrong route, because you can use GPS to find your destination,” said the 42-year-old who works in the import-export sector.
He was still excited about the trip: “I enjoyed the feeling that I controlled the travel and routes instead of following other people.”
Cao Longbo found it easy to rent a car when he arrived in the US. “Airports have a host of car rental companies for tourists to choose from,” said the 37-year-old software engineer, who traveled around the US by car in 2013. “Visitors can rent a car with a credit card, and it’s a good idea to rent GPS or download a map before the journey, even if it’s a littlemoreexpensive.”
Song Qianqian is also a road trip enthusiast. “I want to set my own pace and see scenery or cultures I’m interested in,” said the 31-year-oldwhostudied in theUS before returning to China to work for a financial company in Beijing.
During her study period, Song drove to several cities, suchasOrlando, Atlantaand Maryland. Her most memorable US driving experience was a 17-hour journey from Austin to Phoenix, crossing three states.
“Young For You, a song by Gala, played again and again on my car’s tape player, while trees, deserts and cactuses passed by. It was really fantastic,” she said.
“When I was tired at night, I stopped the car and climbed onto the roof. Lying on my back and looking at stars quickly
I enjoyed the feeling that I controlled the travel and routes instead of following other people.”
made me forgetmy driver’s fatigue.”
Song believes self-driving tours will become an increasingly important contributor to Sino-US tourism, especially among young people and those seeking adventure. She said visitors can enhance their experience by relying on wellplanned routes and good understanding of the strict US traffic rules: “If not, you may find yourself in trouble.”
Beijing resident Wang Yifei has been on two self-driving trips in the US. She stressed the importance of understanding the rules of the road.
“Although traffic rules are much the same all over the world, minor differences are very important because they mainly relate to safety,” she said, adding that Chinese drivers must learn to be patient in traffic jams and should always adhere to the prescribed speed limits.
Wang was pulled over by the police for a traffic violation in Yosemite National Park. “I used a safety lane to overtake a car in front of me that I thought was moving too slowly. As I passed the slower vehicle, a police car sounded its alarm and I was pulled over. I had no idea about the traffic laws in the US and the police officer criticized me severely. Luckily, I wasn’t fined,” she said.
Differences in etiquette may also confuse Chinese drivers. Liu Jing was asked to pay $120 because he failed to wash and refuel his car before returning it to the rental agency.
“You can rent a car when you get off the plane, andsomeagencies evenprovide services in Chinese. But washing and refueling the car before returning it is a must— it’s an unbreakable rule,” he said. To avoid unnecessaryproblems, Liusuggestedtourists pay close attention to every requirement for car rental underUS traffic law.
He called for Chinese car rental agencies to offer information to customers about the laws and related regulations in different states.
“In China, drivers just slow down when they see a stop sign, but in the US the sign means ‘full stop’. If you disobey and fail to stop, you’ll face a heavy fine, at the very least,” he said. “Learn the rules and stay safe.”
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