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For China’s driving test, be ready for almost anything

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BEIJING — Okay, answer quickly: If you have to suddenly jump out of an overturning vehicle, in which direction do you jump? And once you hit the ground, what’s the best way to roll?

Here’s another one: When your car is suddenly plunging into water, what’s the best way to escape? Do you immediately open the door and jump out? Wait until the car hits the water and then open the doors? Stay inside and call for help? Or use your feet to smash the windshield?

These are not questions on the application for a stuntman’s position on a movie set or the final exam for a hostile environment training course before being dispatched to a conflict zone.

Rather, these are real questions from the written test to obtain an ordinary driver’s license in China, and they offer a bizarre and rather frightening window into the world’s most populous and car-craving country.

The computerized test, available in English, Arabic, French and several other languages to foreign residents who want to obtain a Chinese driver’s license, gives 100 randomly generated questions from a seemingly endless list. The topics include arcane traffic signs, police hand signals, and the amounts of various fines and penalties. To pass the test, a would-be driver needs to answer at least 90 of the 100 questions correctly, and many test-takers fail on the first few attempts.

It’s a test that assumes that the motorist might encounter pretty much anything on China’s increasingly clogged and lethal roads, and that includes head-on collisions, tire blowouts and treating injured and bleeding passengers at the scene of a wreck.

There are questions on the proper way to carry an injured person in a coma (sideways, head down), the best way to stanch the bleeding from a major artery and how to put out a passenger on fire (hint: Do not throw sand on the victim).

And there’s an array of questions about mind-boggling penalties for all sorts of infractions, many of which seem to include fleeing the scene of various vehicular crimes — suggesting that the transport control department of the Public Security Bureau has pretty much seen it all.

For example, causing a minor traffic accident and running away could get you less than 15 days in jail. But running away after causing serious injury or major property damage will get you three years behind bars. Running away after causing a traffic death brings a prison term of seven to 15 years.

In newly affluent China, the number of cars and drivers has exploded in recent years, with the country having bypassed the United States as the world’s largest automaker as well as the largest car market. According to traffic department statistics, at the end of 2011, China had 225 million motor vehicles, including 106 million cars, and more than 235 million licensed drivers.

According to People’s Daily Online, which cited Public Security Bureau data, there were 210,812 road accidents in China last year involving injury or loss of life. There were at least 62,387 traffic fatalities last year, with road accidents accounting for more than 80 percent of all accidental deaths in the country.

All those vehicles and their relatively new drivers jostle for space on new highways and expressways with some of the more traditional modes of transportation, and the driving test reminds would-be drivers that they are not alone. There are, for example, questions about what to do when encountering an old man riding a bicycle on the road, a bike rider coming in the opposite direction, a blind man walking down the road or a drunk pedestrian.

There are also several animal-related questions: what to do when encountering a flock of sheep (“drive slowly and use the vehicle to scare away the flock”) and someone herding animals (reduce speed, keep a safe distance). However, when discovering animals “cutting in on the road,” the correct response is to “voluntarily reduce speed, or stop to yield.”

As difficult as the test seems, in some of China’s most congested cities, it’s just the first step before taking to the road.

To buy a new car in Beijing — one of several cities trying to limit the number of vehicles on the road — people must first enter a lottery for a new license plate. At the last count in March, about 970,000 Beijing residents had signed up for one of the 20,282 license plates available for the month.

The Global Times newspaper put the odds of getting a license plate at 1 in 47.9.

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