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The Day I Got My First China Speeding Ticket

September 6 | 15 Comments

It was bound to happen at some point.

Not that I’m a bad driver. In 15 years behind the wheel I can count on one hand the number of traffic violations I’ve received. Yet there splashed across the computer screen in the police station was a picture of me happily speeding down the highway between Urumqi and Heavenly Lake.

“Is that you?” the lady behind the desk asked, as if it was normal for a white foreigner to be caught speeding along a Xinjiang highway.

“Yes” I said as I handed over my 200 RMB fine. “That’s definitely me.”

Camera-Shy in China

Everybody is fully aware of each camera on the road.”

This ticket was inevitable because, unlike all the locals here, I’m not yet savvy enough to know where the traffic cameras are.

The trouble is they’re pretty much everywhere, though, flashing pictures whether you’re speeding or not. Not once during my tenure as a Chinese driver have I ever seen a cop car pull anybody over, but everybody is fully aware of each camera on the road.

Traffic Cameras in Urumqi, Xinjiang are everywhere

In my particular case a camera caught me doing 95 in an 80 zone (which is unbelievably slow for an interstate highway, I should add)

But I’m not here to gripe about a ticket that I admittedly earned. What I couldn’t believe was just how difficult it was to pay the fine.

Paying my China Speeding Ticket

My first stop was the local traffic police office, the logical place to start. I asked at least 3 different police officers where I should go to pay my ticket and received three very different answers. That’s about par for the course here in China.

At the Urumqi Traffic Police station

I finally found somebody who was able to explain to me that because this ticket was given on the expressway, it was beyond the jurisdiction of the Urumqi traffic police.

I ended up walking two miles down the deserted road…”

Great. Now I had to find my way to the nearest highway patrol office, which was quite a distance outside the city.

I hailed a taxi and thankfully he knew exactly where I needed to go. “You got a ticket?” he laughed after I explained my situation.

He caught himself laughing and quickly followed up with an encouraging “We all get tickets at some point.” Nice save, Mr. Taxi Man.

After 30 minutes on the highway out of town he dropped me off at the edge of Wulabo, a small village that hadn’t yet finished paving their first road.

Crumbling walls of Wuluobo near Urumqi, Xinjiang

“Walk down that gravel path for a while and you’ll find it on your left” the driver told me. He then sped off.

I walked about 500 meters but ran across nothing except for crumbling homes and some wild goats.

The few people I did run across kept pointing me further and further down the dirt path. I ended up walking two miles down the deserted road before reaching any other buildings.

Walking 2 miles down the gravel road in Urumqi, Xinjiang

Finally I came to a small building that was no larger than a mobile home.

The door was locked and the sign said they closed from 1:30pm to 4pm for lunch. I looked down at my watch. It was exactly 1:31pm.



Not after all these hours in police stations, taxis and a dirt road.

State patrol office near Urumqi, Xinjiang in China

I banged on that door. I banged hard, too.

’ve seen Chinese people use this tactic and it seems to work for them. I had nothing to lose.

The sign said they closed at 1:30pm…my watch told me it was 1:31pm”

The door cracked open and I pleaded with the woman to just let me pay my fine and go. She gave me a short speech about the importance of the lunch break but finally let me in and took my money.

As I began the two-mile trek back to the road I calculated how much I had spent in the process of paying my 200 RMB speeding ticket. All of the taxis had added up to approximately 90 RMB and that doesn’t include the four hours of my time, which I’d like to think is worth something as well.

Bottom line: I need to either keep within the speed limit on the interstate or learn how to avoid the traffic cameras.

Chances are I’ll be doing more of the latter.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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  1. LOL!!

    True, all too true, story: my GF here in NYC tried paying for a ticket online…filled out the form and everything…and now her license will be suspended. Why?

    Turns out the DMV website was not working properly — but “it’s her responsibility” to get the ticket paid regardless!

    Hopefully a judge will be more humane — and intelligent — than the typical government worker….

    Josh Summers on September 10th, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Yea, every country is subject to odd rules and regulations. Sometimes you just have to walk a couple miles on a deserted dirt road to get a ticket paid though – regardless of how fair it seems.

  2. Josh,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences in China. Everything seems “interesting” for a foreigner, I’ve had similar a similar experience trying to get on a bus from one city to another. That’s what makes it such a fun place to visit, but it is the people that make it special. Keep sharing.
    Steve M

    Josh Summers on September 10th, 2014 at 4:21 am

    It’s the journey, not the destination. Right, Steve? :)

  3. Great story as usual. My question : what if you do not pay the fine?
    I was once traveling with a friend when he was pulled over after a toll gate in Zhejiang. It turned out his car number was recorded for a similar traffic violation. He got a mild speech about being more careful next time and the cop erased the record.
    Thanks for sharing !

    Josh Summers on September 10th, 2014 at 4:21 am

    For me there probably wouldn’t have been much repercussion because I didn’t own the car. For my friend who owned the car, however, he would have been penalized next time he tried to re-register the car.

    I was hoping they would let me slide this time, but no such luck!

  4. You’ve inspired me, Josh. I think a similarly themed collection of pieces by Chinese living in the USA would go over very well. They could write about breaking the law and the ensuing amusing antics. I’m not sure there will be many stories of being served outside of business hours, but it would be nice if each story concluded with a vow like yours: I’m going to keep breaking the law, but work harder at not getting caught. The working title is “More of the Latter”. Thanks. This is a brilliant idea.

    Josh Summers on September 12th, 2014 at 1:24 am

    I appreciate your comment but frankly you get no sympathy from me. There’s no comparison between a Chinese person living in the U.S. and a foreigner living in China. That’s precisely why such “collection of pieces by Chinese living in the USA” don’t exist. You (who I assume lives in the U.S.) are afforded a long list of freedoms and rights that I have willingly given up by living here.

    That last line was sarcastic anyway – you should have known that based on your comment. It does me no good to break Chinese law – but it certainly helps knowing where the cameras are (just like every other Chinese driver who is speeding past me on the road…but doesn’t get a ticket).

  5. No sympathy, no problem. I’ve visited the US, but have never lived there, so I don’t know what American exceptionalism is exactly. Is that what you mean when you seem to suggest that it’s OK for Americans to break the law in China but not vice versa?
    Also, I hope you noticed the sarcasm in the first line, too.