Latest Posts:

Death on the Highway

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

My April to July trip from Bangkok to London along the Silk Road this year gave me plenty of opportunity to muse about safety on the roads. There was no question that we went through some countries where the roads were horribly unsafe. There was general agreement that the driving in Iran was terrifying and the statistics backed up that feeling. Annual road deaths per million in Iran – 321. That’s 11 times as bad as the UK which at 29 million is about as good as it gets, Sweden just beats it at 28.

So why do people die on the roads? Crazy driving plays a big part, lousy vehicles another big part. So a country like India may not have many vehicles on a per capita basis and drivers may not cover a lot of distance, but when you do have an accident you’re much less likely to be protected by seat belts, air bags, crumple zones and other modern design features. So, as you’d expect modern, affluent countries kill far less people per mile, per car, per head of population, ie on any measure you care to take, than countries in the developing world. The real horror story on the roads is Thailand which gets through 362 people per million: all those motorcycles

◄ Don’t drink and drive, a warning in China.

▲ And don’t speed, another China warning. Countries do turn their accident statistics around. We’re all driving much safer cars these days, but just as important as the cars are the drivers and despite protests about the freedom of the road speed limits and drink driving enforcement have also played a huge part in reducing the road toll. Spain, which used to have a truly developing world accident rate is now only a smidge worse than the northern European pace setters at 37 per million. Incidentally Germany at 43 is pretty good, despite those speed-limit-free autobahns. South Korea, which was a truly scary place to drive when cars first started to flood country, is today like most other modern, affluent, industrialised nations. When a country has modern vehicles and still manages to have a non-modern world accident rate – like Saudi Arabia or the UAE – it’s usually down to lousy driving.

◄ A standard Chinese freeway warning – with a standard spelling error – warning you to use your seat belts. Clearly the Chinese are intent on bringing their accident rate down to modern levels.

There is, however, one modern, wealthy, industrialised nation where the accident rate is still horrifyingly high. Yep, the USA, as a recent New York Times story underlined. This is the worst place in the wealthy world for highway deaths and the reason is simple. Just as America leads the world in gun deaths – ‘guns kill people? Well who would believe that?’ – the US death rate is down to ignoring the lessons other countries have learnt.

Speed cameras? That would be an infringement on American privacy. Drink driving? Isn’t it your right to drink before you hit the road? So the random breath tests which are part of life in Australia (they ramp up right about now, just before Christmas) don’t happen in the US and when limits are enforced they’re weaker than almost anywhere else. The standard US limit is 0.08 (0.08% blood alcohol level) when in most advanced countries the limit is 0.05 – if it isn’t 0.03 or even 0.00. Right now Utah (home of all those non-drinking Mormons) is trying to lead the US by cutting the limit to 0.05. And it’s facing plenty of resistance.

MGBs on the Silk Road – Day 57 to Day 63

10 June 2017 | Places

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, if I’ve had culture shock in recent years then these two countries have been the places that provided it. They simply were not at all like I expected, scenically or culturally. I was expecting deserts, I got the Swiss Alps. I was expecting t...

View Post

Silk Road by MGB – China & Kazakhstan Day 47 to 57

5 June 2017 | Places

I’m in to Uzbekistan now on Day 65, but here’s a quick catch up from Day 47 to 57 Day 49 – Dunhuang is famous for its Buddhist caves and for the Singing Sand Dunes. The caves were indeed terrific, but after Maijishan it was hard to be impressed. The sand dunes, how...

View Post

On the Road – Part 3

31 May 2017 | Transport

We’re at Day 60 on our Silk Road by car odyssey, out of China, through Kazakhstan and into Kyrgyzstan, but here are some final thoughts on driving in China after covering 10,500km from the Laos border to the Kazakhstan one. ▲ My car, Burgundy, in trouble. It was to...

View Post

Toilets in China

26 May 2017 | Living

One of the pleasures (or at least conveniences) of travel in China today is the huge number of public toilets. Once upon a time they were hard to find and when you found one you often wished you hadn’t. ◄ Toilet sign in Pingyao Now they seem to be everywhere and...

View Post

Curiosities & General Strange & Weird Stuff in China

25 May 2017 | The rest

▲ We had a wonderfully loud and raucous restaurant evening in the village of Duoyishu, in the rice terrace area of Yuanyang. The Chinese group at the next table were ripping in to the alcohol, toasting us, generally getting more and more in to the party spirit, culmin...

View Post

Silk Road by MGB – China Stops Day 30 to Day 46

24 May 2017 | Places

We’re at Day 53 and almost across China in our long trek from Bangkok to London (well to Abingdon, where they once made MGs). Here are a few more of our China stops en route: ▲ On Day 30 we were at Huangshan, one of China’s best known mountain sites and the view fr...

View Post

Silk Road by MGB – China Stops Day 19 to Day 29

22 May 2017 | Places

We’re now at Day 52 of our Silk Road journey and en route through China we made some intriguing stops, here are a few from our arrival in China through to Day 29 of the trip. ◄ On Day 19, between Mengla near the Laotian border and Pu’er, famous for its tea, we visi...

View Post

Xining to Zhangye on the G227 – Day 47 on the Silk Road by MGB

19 May 2017 | Transport

Most of the way across China we’ve followed the ‘highways,’ toll roads where you can cover lots of kms without interruption. About 40km out of Xining heading towards Zhangye the highway ends and we follow the often twisting and turning G227 for most of the day’s 336km...

View Post

Xian in China – cycling the city wall

18 May 2017 | Transport

◄ It may not be totally original, like the Pingyao City Walls, but the City Walls of Xian stretch for 14km and you can rent bicycles and ride a circuit. They cost 200 RMB (about US$30) refundable deposit and 45 RMB (about US$6.50) for two hours     ...

View Post

Maijishan & La Shao – Days 44 & 45 on the Silk Road by MGB

16 May 2017 | Places

It’s wonderful that you can still find places that a. amaze you and b. you’ve never heard of before. Both of these Buddhist sites in Gansu Province in China amazed me, La Shao I had never heard of until a day before my visit ▲ Maijishan I had heard of, although onl...

View Post