Speed Limits and Types of Road

Understand the different speed limits and types of road in China, plus who to call following a breakdown or accident...

Road and Traffic Signs

In many areas of mainland China road signs are generally displayed in Chinese characters only. However, on expressways and in some major cities like Shanghai, road signs are in both Chinese and English.

The background colours of the signs indicate the type of notice or warning, and some are similar to those found in Western countries:

  • Triangular signs containing a symbol are warnings
  • Solid red octagons are "Stop" signs
  • Clearways (roads where no stopping is permitted) are indicated by a blue circle with a red border and red "X"
  • Give way" signs are the standard upside-down red-bordered triangles
  • Red-bordered circular signs containing a symbol mean "Do not" (for example, "Do not make a U-turn or overtake"

Types of Roads

The quality of roads varies widely across the country and from province to province. In major cities the infrastructure and road conditions can be good, although heavy congestion makes driving a constant challenge. Cars mix with swarms of bicycles, trucks and other vehicles, while pedestrians straying on to the road are a major hazard. Speed limits are 30 Km/h (19 Mp/h) on single lane roads, and 70 Km/h (43 Mp/h) on multi-lane roads separated by a central reservation. Speed traps and radar speed check zones are common.

China National Highways are usually toll roads that connect towns and cities. They are identified by a G followed by a three-digit number. The G100 series indicates national highways radiating from Beijing, the G200 numbers are highways that run east to west, and the G300 series from north to south. Speed limits on national highways are 80 Km/h (50 Mp/h), or 40 Km/h (25 Mp/h where the highway is single lane). Provincial highway numbers are preceded by an S and county highways begin with an X, and both of these types of roads are usually of inferior quality to national highways.

Expressways are also usually toll roads, and are the equivalent of motorways. Signs are usually in both Chinese and English, and the roads have service stations and well-labelled exits. Speed limits are generally 120 Km/h (75 Mp/h) on city-to-city routes, while on express routes within cities the limit is 100 Km/h (62 Mp/h). Expressways are also indicated by a G, followed by a one-, two- or four-digit number. Single-digit numbers are allocated to roads out of Beijing, double-digit numbers are either city-to-city north-south expressways (odd numbers) or east-west expressways (even numbers). Four-digit numbers indicate shorter connecting expressways.

There is usually a "buffer" of 10 Km/h over the speed limit before a fine is issued. Speeding fines vary from CNY200 for minor offences up to CNY2,000 and a possible driving ban for exceeding the limit by over 50 percent.

Breakdown and Recovery

There is no national emergency breakdown service, but there are local towing and repair services in major cities. In case of a breakdown, out-of-action cars should be moved to the side of the main road before arrangements are made to recover the vehicle, if possible. Alternatively if the car is blocking traffic on a main highway, the police should be called to assist.

Car hire firms usually offer an in-house recovery service to drivers of leased vehicles. Some insurance policies may also indicate a partnership with a specific recovery firm.

Main highways tend to have emergency phones by the side of the road every kilometre or two, but on journeys out of the city it is always wise to take a mobile phone.