Monday, December 14, 2009

Driving a car in Korea.

Apparently, it's the hardest thing on the planet. I know people who have traversed the planet, left their home country, diligently learnt the English language (not exactly an easy task), acculturated themselves to American culture only to be terrified of getting a driver's license and driving to the grocery store. I mean after all they have accomplished, why is driving a car all of a sudden this insurmountable obstacle?

Korean Traffic Safety Korea
Not that I blame anyone for being a bit apprehensive. This chart and map isn't exactly comforting. Not to mention that out of 29 countries researched, Korea ranked 27. In this case, the bronze medal is especially not something to be proud of. It perplexes me because Japan has a reported 0.88 deaths per 10,000 cars on the road, Germany reports 0.93 per 10,000 cars (oh and the Autobahn is in Germany for those who forgot). So why does Korea report 3.34 traffic-related deaths per 10,000 cars on the road? Not sure, but the more I look into it, the more depressed I get. The number of deaths from traffic accidents per 100,000 people in Korea amounted to 16.9 compared to 15.2 United States, and 8.2 Japan.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking is the reported 200 annual deaths of children. Sadly, this number only reflects school-zone pedestrian deaths - not including other sources. Furthermore, 25.6 of 100,000 children under the age of 15 die due from accidental causes, specifically pedestrian-related accidents such as walking alongside a road - sidewalk or not. What in the world is wrong with Korea's traffic safety? Is this where the fear of being behind the wheel comes from? So why in the world do Americans feel so invincible while driving? We aren't immune to these statistics.

It's also fair to point out the higher dependence on public transportation in Korea. However, these accidents are caused by both commercial and personal drivers. It's enough to stop and take a good look at who's driving you home, doesn't it? For that matter, traffic congestion opens up a whole different set of problems, right?

So what can be done? This .pdf presentation deserves to be viewed by all who travel in Korea. It's concise and full of concrete examples and areas of improvement, namely education. For a developed country like South Korea, I know much more can be done to prevent such tragedies - especially considering that many of the problems stem from infrastructural defects such as misplacement of signs, symbols, markers, and lights.