Sunday, March 26, 2006

Driving Defensively: A letter

One wonderful aspect of blogging and building websites is the great letters you get. Excerpts from a recent one:

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One more note, I think paid plane fare is a thing of the past; if you come now it's on your own dime and the best one can hope for is reimbursement (some or all) after the contract is up. My employer wouldn't offer to pay anything for my ticket, although I do have performance and attendance bonuses I meet every month that will make up for it.

One thing others have told me about Taiwan and I agree with is the driving habits. You don't say it on your site, but people in the south tend to be worse drivers (more speeding and agression) than those in the north. About the only time they, cars and scooters, don't drive recklessly around me is when I'm carrying my folding shopping cart to the market. When they see a big metal item in front of their body or bodywork, they don't come close. I'm not suggesting that I'm agressive, but rather the drivers don't try to come close when they see the potential damage. I call it the "pain and paint" philosophy: people only pay attention and back off when they or their property will be hurt.

I'm glad I brought with me from Korea the extra cycling gear I used there: plastic hand, elbow and knee pads that rollerbladers use. In four months here I've lost count already the number of times those have saved me from these idiot drivers. When a car tries to cut me off, my knee scraping on the panel and elbow on the window is much more effective than skin at making them move over, and the same applies to the hands of scooter drivers who try to muscle me off the road; it's funny to see one take his hand off the accelerator and shake the pain off his hand when his hand bangs into mine. As above, I'm not being the aggressor, I'm riding in straight lines and the Taiwanese weave like lunatics.

Because I know and have seen way too much to write in a first email, it would be better to send a list of differences for those are interested or want to leave Korea for greener pastures. And I do mean *green*; if you think Taipei is bereft of plant life, it's a rain forest compared to Seoul. Many parts of Seoul have no bugs because the land is so dead. [S. Taiwan] is almost as green as I remember Vancouver to be.

Taiwan's not as clean or orderly as Japan and the people aren't as friendly as the Thais or Filipinos, but it's better than a lot of places I could be.

4 comments:

STOP_George said...

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Does anyone have statitics (per capita) of motor vehicle accidents in Taiwan compared to western countries?

At first, I was shocked by the agressive driving here (and I thought Montreal was bad). However, the more I live here, the more I notice that -- it's sort of a controlled chaos, as it were.

Something tells me that the number of motor vehicle accidents per capita are more or less the same as they are in the west.

I could be wrong, however.

Certainly for pedestrians and cyclists, Taiwan is far more hazardous, though.
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Michael Turton said...

China Post article

Taiwan, with 2,718 traffic deaths and 152,080 traffic injuries in 2003, still has a lot of room for improvement in promoting road safety. The figures equate to one out of every 150 people being either killed or injured in a traffic accident last year.

Ouch

For all accidents, not just autos...scary

Michael Turton said...

Although this fellow argues that you are right:

http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1509090

I suspect not, though. The reason for the fewer fatalities is slower overall traffic speeds, not better driving.

Michael

Tim Maddog said...

From the Traffic page of another of my web sites which hasn't been updated in ages:
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The January 23, 2000 edition of the English-language China Times quoted some horrifying recent statistics on Taiwan's traffic. The article said that in 1999, 20.63 million traffic citations were given out. That's nearly one for every person (including babies) in the whole country! This was an increase of 5.47 million from the previous year. The statistics also showed a total of 2,487 (reported) accidents resulting in 2,393 deaths (96% fatality rate). In 1998 there were 2,720 accidents reported which resulted in 2,507 deaths (92% fatality rate).

[...]

Not as horrifying, but just as repulsive is the 3/1/2000 report that says scooter riders in Taipei average 3 traffic tickets yearly generating NT$3.81 billion for the city.

A May 2000 report by Formosa TV (in Big-5 Chinese) says that an average of 3.8 children per day die in Taiwan as a result of accidents--a good many of which involve the buses which take them to and from school. In January of this year, I gave the driver of one of these buses a good verbal reaming when she pulled out in front of my bicycle without looking or even slowing down. I hope it left a strong impression on the children--as long as they understood!

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Be careful of old, defunct links and music on that page.

Here's some more from my Mondo Danger page:
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On Friday, August 4, 2000, a Taipei city bus killed a motorist in another vehicle, bringing the total number of people killed by buses in Taiwan in the past 6 months to 43.

[...]

On Wednesday, March 1, 2001 a drunken Taipei County police official ran over a traffic cone which then flew through the air and struck a Taipei City police officer in the face knocking him unconscious. The attempts by officials to cover up this incident led the media to bring the seriousness of the issue (of drunken police) to the attention of the (drunken) public. In the last 2 years, there have been 6 cases of drunken police officers hitting people with their vehicles, in some cases causing deaths. The problem is not limited to the police. According to a Taipei Times article, "Drunk driving accidents resulting in fatalities occur almost daily in Taiwan. In 1999, there were nearly 125,000 cases of individuals caught driving under the influence. In the first three months of last year, there were roughly 31,000 cases."

[...]

On the rainy afternoon of Tuesday, April 3, 2001, the driver of an "Airbus" on its way to Taoyuan's CKS International Airport decided to take a detour to avoid traffic. Instead of arriving early, or even on time, the driver drove the bus off the road, plunging it and its passengers about 30 meters downward into a ravine. Speculation by police blames the accident on either the rain or faulty brakes, but you and I know better, don't we? First of all, the driver wasn't following his normal route. (I have complained time and time again about bus drivers doing this.) I'd also lay money on the fact that he didn't have much respect for traffic laws (nor the safety of his passengers).

[...]

Sunday, April 15, 2001 - Two Ren You buses on a mountain road near Taichung's "Encore Gardens" had a head-on collision around 1:00 this afternoon which resulted in at least 4 deaths and 45 injuries. In addition to being overloaded (some reports say there were nearly 100 people on board), the bus coming down the mountain apparently lost its brakes and slammed into the other bus in a curve.

This was not today's only bus crash in Taichung. A Tung Lien bus arriving from Taipei crashed into several pedestrians and parked taxis in front of the Taichung Train Station injuring seven people. One taxi driver who had to be cut out of his vehicle lost a leg in the collision. I personally saw the aftermath of this accident.

[...]

Monday, May 21, 2001 - [...]

Today I personally witnessed a man wearing slippers carting 3 big propane tanks and 2 small ones on the back of his motorcycle and simultaneously smoking a cigarette. He popped a wheelie as he took off before the light at this major intersection (Kung Yi and Wen Hsin Roads) had turned green, nearly crashing into the cars that were running the red light in the other direction.

[...]

Wednesday, May 30, 2001 - I haven't been watching the (ass) news too much recently, but today I personally witnessed an asshole riding a motorcycle -- in the rain -- talking on a cell phone while holding it on his left shoulder, driving against traffic, AND placing those little KTV advertisements (xiao3 mi4 feng1) on car windows with his left hand. Even though he was wearing what would legally pass for a helmet, he oughta be a little more careful. He could've dropped his cell phone!

[...]

Saturday, August 18, 2001 - [...]

In lighter news, as I was riding in a taxi this evening, I personally witnessed someone on a motorcycle holding an I.V. bag overhead. I couldn't see where the tube went, but I imagined that it terminated at a hand holding a cellphone. A taxi ride earlier in the evening had its own dangerous moments. For no apparent reason, the driver crossed the double yellow line in the middle of the road and tried to pass the car in front of us. I quickly told him I wasn't in any particular hurry, so he let out a laugh and dropped back into the proper lane. I told him it wasn't funny and that he was very unprofessional. Most Taiwanese would fear the driver killing them with a watermelon knife for criticizing him than they would fear death or disfigurement caused by the potential car crash. "Ignorance is bliss," eh?

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I gave up. Couldn't keep up with it all. Things have improved a bit, but as we see from the new arrivals, they've still got a long way to go.