While expats certainly have the right to purchase and drive cars in Shanghai, it is not enthusiastically recommended. Chinese driving standards are quite poor. Accidents in which cars fail to stop at red traffic lights and hit pedestrians at pedestrian crossings are commonplace. There is currently no law in China against using mobile phones while driving and this, coupled with a blatant disregard for any type of highway code, makes the choice of operating a private car highly undesirable to expats. Even vehicles with military plates routinely disobey all traffic laws, running red lights and driving at any speed and in any direction they choose.
Driving is on the right side of the road with automatic left hand drive cars. Road signs are in Chinese characters with a mix of English and pinyin. Drivers are aggressive, frequently honk, swerve around the lanes, and rarely signal. The traffic situation can get especially frustrating during rush hours, which occur between 07:30 am and 09:30 am and 17:00 pm and 19:00 pm. To curb congestion on the highway, the Shanghai government has made it illegal for cars with license plates from outside Shanghai to use the elevated highway during rush hours.
Seatbelts are rarely worn, and while it is certainly illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol, drunk-driving does not carry the stigma it now has in other countries, although recently the police have begun performing more alcohol tests and applying hard fines and even jail penalties. This is not to suggest there is more drunk-driving in China than in other parts of the world – it is simply mentioned to illustrate the cultural differences that are evident even in the way people drive. Another disadvantage that cars have is the incredibly congested Shanghai roads (there are not nearly enough motorways to cope with the density of traffic) and a dearth of parking areas in and around the city.
Parking in Shanghai usually costs around RMB 10 per hour. Offices often supply employees with parking passes. Monthly parking in the pricier garages can reach up to RMB 2,000, while other buildings will only cost a few hundred RMB.
China’s car market is rapidly expanding and for car buyers, this growth means a wide selection and increasingly competitive prices. Even so, most expats opt to lease a car with a driver due to the expenses and long bureaucratic process involved in buying. A driver can be hired to work for one day only, or work on a daily basis and be paid monthly for their services. Employing a full-time driver is affordable, and will cost approximately RMB 2,500 per month (plus overtime), whereas a day trip around the city with a driver will cost more. (See Rental Companies for information on leasing cars with drivers). You can also hire a driver for your own car, it costs around 3,000 RMB per month (full time). The best way to find one is ask to your ayi or your ayi agency, since many recommend their husbands or relatives.
Traffic cops are located on various street corners to stop jaywalkers and bicyclists from crossing at the wrong time. Still, pedestrians do not commonly heed traffic signs, and bicyclists often follow their own rules. Shanghai laws state that the driver is always responsible for an accident involving a pedestrian, so drivers should be especially wary of people strolling across the street. Large intersections have overhead bridges for pedestrians to safely cross. China has roughly four times the highway fatality rates of most European countries and America. Expats should be very careful if they choose to drive in Shanghai.
For expats looking to fill their cars with gas, SinoPetrol and Sinopec are the two main gas stations around Shanghai, and have a general monopoly in energy services in China. Attendants will always pump and the stations often have subcontractors who will offer car wash services or simple maintenance checks. All types of gas are unleaded. Prices run about 5.20 to 5.80 RMB per liter, depending on the octane rating.