Koreans are notoriously aggressive drivers. Although perhaps not as well known as Italians for bad driving and violating the rules of the road, Koreans nonetheless rank high on the list of bad drivers living in developed countries. If the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published a ranked list of OECD members’ driving records, I’m positive that Korea would rank in the top three out of 30 OECD nations for bad driving.
One of the worst problems is the fact that Korean drivers pay little heed to a red light until about five seconds after it turns red. After the light turns red, a handful of cars will still barrel through the light. Cars whose light is green must wait until all cars have passed to start driving again, and their drivers must look both ways and hope they won’t be hit by a reckless oncoming driver. Public busses and taxi cabs are especially culpable. This morning on the way to work, I saw three city busses drive through the same red light, one after another. Why shouldn’t they? After all, they carry more people, so they deserve the right-of-way, correct? They’re bigger than most cars and can get away with it, right? Wrong. Busses need to obey the rules like any other vehicle. This problem is not as bad outside of Seoul, but it pervades the entire country. Busan taxi cab drivers are the most notorious of all.
From time to time, for better or for worse, Korean authorities crack down on illegal practices in Korea. The crackdowns come fast and furious, typically last a few months, result in multiple arrests and fines, and then subside like the end of an outbreak. In 2004, the authorities targeted prostitution. In 2005, they focused on catching English teachers teaching illegally in Korea. In 2006, as befits a modern, developed society, Korea should target traffic violators. The authorities could start by warning tour companies and the public transportation bureau that the drivers of busses caught speeding, cutting lanes, and running red lights will be subject to stringent fines, and then enforce the threat. Likewise, they could warn the taxi companies that taxi drivers will pay heavy fines for violating traffic laws. These two actions in and of itself would immensely improve driving in Korea. Of course, other drivers should be ticketed too, but cracking down on salaried bus and taxi cab drivers would do wonders to improve traffic–and it would dramatically improve Korea’s image.