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.

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

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.”

Con­tact the writer at caoyin@chi­

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