China driving schools teaching millions the art of war
By Zhou Xin and Ken Wills
BEIJING (Reuters) - China is rapidly becoming a country on wheels and its crowded driving schools are racing to churn out licensed drivers as fast as cars roll off the assembly lines.
But judging by the daily smash-ups and blatant disregard for even basic traffic rules on China's roadways, quantity seems to have trumped quality at many schools.
China surpassed the United States in 2009 to become the world's largest auto market, and just as newly affluent Chinese are snapping up expensive cars in staggering numbers, driving schools are bursting at the seams.
"There are so many trainees because everyone wants a driving license," said Ren Xingzhou, an instructor at Fengshun Driving School in Beijing. "Driving used to be a profession in China -- now it's necessary living skill."
According to official data, China granted 22.69 million driving licenses in 2011 alone, bringing the total number of licensed drivers in the country to 236 million at the end of 2011.
But no amount of classroom work or simulated driving may prepare drivers for the roadways that more closely resemble slow-moving battle grounds than transportation arteries.
In 2010 alone, China reported 3.9 million road accidents that killed 65,225 people and injured 254,075. Lack of experience is often cited as a key reason behind the rocketing number of accidents.
In hopes of instilling some sense of order, Chinese law requires drivers to attend a driving school before passing a written test. As a result, thousands of driver training schools, charging as much as 8,000 yuan ($1,300), have mushroomed across Beijing, a city of about 20 million people that is already congested with some 5 million cars. Continued...