As is also the case in the UK and other countries, China’s traffic police operates a road traffic demerit points scheme.
You get 12 points every year, to be used up at your own risk — if you want to break the law, that is. For most of us, we’ll simply observe the law, never run into other people or cars, and be on our way.
If you lose all 12 points a year, you have to re-sit driving test classes and exams. Furthermore, your upgrade to a longer-validity licence can be delayed. You also risk being immediately ineligible to upgrade to a better licence enabling you to drive more kinds of vehicles.
If you encounter a violation which takes away points, be sure to pay your fine immediately, as your points will not reset to zero unless all fines have been paid.
Here’s how many points you stand to lose.
VERY SERIOUS OFFENCES (12 POINTS)
You lose all 12 points, if you:—
- drive without a number plate
- in any way tamper with your plate to avoid any part (or the whole plate) being fully legible (this could also land you up to 15 days in government detention and a fine up to CNY 5,000.—)
- fail to use a number plate fastener in accordance with the rules
- in the case of temporary plates, fail to place ONE number plate on the lower left corner of your windscreen and the OTHER one at the lower left corner of your rear window
- drive after drinking (if not drunk, plus there is a fine of up to CNY 2,000.— and your licence is suspended for 6 months; if drunk, your licence is taken from you for good, and you risk imprisonment and a criminal record)
- drive whilst tired
- reverse or go against the flow of traffic on expressways
- cross the central reservation on expressways
- escape after a hit-and-run (but if no criminal charges have been filed against you)
- exceed the speed limit by 50% (eg if driving at speeds above 180 km/h on an expressway signed for 120 km/h)
SERIOUS OFFENCES (6 POINTS)
You lose 6 points, if you:—
- run over a red light (2 points only if you brake at a red, with part of your vehicle already over the STOP line; none if you run a yellow light)
- fail to observe by special regulations on expressways during days with poor visibility
- illegally drive using the emergency lane on expressways
- do not stop when a school bus stops (with the STOP sign in Chinese showing; you may legally continue at a reduced speed if you are at least two lanes away from the school bus; that is, the lane where the school bus is on, plus the one immediately next to that, must be left unoccupied)
- exceed the speed limit by between 20% and 50% (eg if driving at speeds between 120 km/h and 150 km/h on an express road signed for 100 km/h)
- carry too many people in your car in excess of the number legally permitted
MAJOR OFFENCES (3 POINTS)
You lose 3 points, if you:—
- fail to stop for pedestrians on a zebra crossing
- cross over a part of the road marked as off-limits by road markers
- drive in the wrong lane, or drive incorrectly in your lane
- fail to observe or follow priority or prohibitory road signs
- drive in the opposite direction (off of expressways)
- drive at speeds lower than the signed minimum speed limit
- fail to display accident triangles or use accident blinkers after an accident
- exceed the speed limit by up to 20% (eg if driving at speeds up to 120 km/h on an express road signed for 100 km/h)
SIGNIFICANT OFFENCES (2 POINTS)
You lose 2 points, if you:—
- smoke or use a mobile telephone when driving
- force your way into a traffic queue from a nearby lane
- fail to use seat belts (required for in particular the driver, but also for passengers)
MINOR OFFENCES (1 POINTS)
You lose 1 point, if you:—
- abuse your set of lights (eg dipped lights, headlights, etc), thus causing a nuisance to other drivers
- fail to give way as required on narrow roads or in mountainous or hilly terrain
This post is not an exhaustive list.