By Kim So-yee
Last year I got my driver’s license. After a year, I gave up driving because of the poor driving etiquette in Korea.
I was fully aware of Korean drivers’ bad reputation prior to hitting the roads, but it was much worse than I expected. There are so many reckless drivers on the road, which made me really annoyed and nervous. And they cause a so many accidents.
In 2011, Korea’s death rate in car accidents was 11.3 per 100,000 people, the highest figure among OECD nations. Last year, Korea posted the highest fatality rate of pedestrians in the OECD.
Bad driving habits were to blame.
First, tailgating is one of the main culprits of car accidents. During rush hour, you can see such scenes throughout Seoul. Cars are in a long line to avoid missing the traffic light. Even after the traffic light changes, drivers keep tailing one another in the middle of the intersection.
Cars that fail to drive through the traffic light unsuccessfully try to go straight, and blare their horns in frustration. The blaring of horns on the road out there creates discomfort, to say the least.
Second, no signaling causes danger. My hands used to get wet because of firmly holding to the steering wheel to guard against the many reckless drivers who suddenly cut in from the right and left sides without turning on the blinker. In 2011, many fender-benders occurred due to sudden-lane changes.
Third, they make quick starts. I once witnessed a motorcycle going through a crosswalk before the traffic light turned green. The rider then fell off his bike after trying to avoid a bus turning left. This dangerous crash could have put his life in peril. Most Korean drivers tend to jump the gun on the traffic light and speed up even when the light turns yellow.
Korean drivers have little consideration for other road users, especially novice and female drivers. I attached a ''beginning driver” sign on my car.
After that, I noticed that honking and threatening tailgating increased, even when my husband, who had 10 years’ driving experience, was driving my car.
And what’s more surprising is that as soon as I removed that sign, this problem was gone. Some drivers tend to turn nasty after they notice the driver is a woman. They always complain that female drivers don’t drive properly. But it’s not true, male drivers are more prone to car accidents than female drivers.
Unlike in Korea, Japanese drivers have consideration for other drivers. Beginning drivers and disabled drivers must put earmarked stickers on their cars. If anybody passes or threatens a car with a sticker, they will pay a fine.
Many Koreans who have traveled abroad say they are impressed with the driving cultures of other countries, where the priority is on pedestrians and courteous driving.
Why do gentle and placid people become reckless while driving? Professor Lee Sun-cheol of Chungbuk University points to anonymity. Most people feel anonymity is guaranteed in their cars, because they are covered with a hard shell.
Prof. Lee also says bad driving habits are a learned skill stemming from social contradictions. For example, we speed away after we make a threat or break a law, and then we go unpunished. This social atmosphere produces the distorted Korean driving culture. Now we have to step up to root out bad driving habits that threaten safety.
We need stronger penalties to change public perception that violating traffic laws is neither a crime nor a big deal. The government has to increase the number of traffic police and unmanned cameras. The police must single out those over speeding, those who jump the red light, tailgaters and other careless drivers.
When drivers are caught by police, they should pay an enormous fine, be reeducated and perform community service. Following a national movement, the government should offer incentives to drivers who make and keep the ''No violation, no accident,” pledge. Drive safely!