Tue, Nov 28, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Traffic accidents and social values

By Eugene Chiu 丘為君

The car accident involving Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and his wife Shaw Hsiao-ling (邵曉鈴) was a terrible shock to everyone.

The number of people in Taiwan killed and injured in traffic accidents over the past 10 years stands out among other social indicators, along with the crime rate.

According to figures from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (主計處), there were 5,929 deaths and injuries from traffic accidents in 1996. By 2000, that number had risen sharply to 70,283.

Since then, it has continued to soar by double-digit growth rates, until last year it reached 205,981, or nine people in 1,000 being injured or killed in car accidents.

However, things are very different in neighboring countries.

China's economic growth in recent years has spurred road construction and the desire to travel under one's own power, which in turn has led to a rise in traffic accidents. Every year more than 100,000 people die in car accidents -- the highest in the world. Every five minutes, someone dies on the road and every minute someone becomes disabled as a result of a traffic accident.

No wonder reports by the WHO say that China is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for drivers and pedestrians alike.

China's traffic conditions have no doubt made an impression on any Taiwanese who has seen them firsthand.

Hong Kong and Japan, however, are model examples. Everyone is aware that Hong Kong has many cars for its relatively few roads, but visitors there have certainly noticed that Hong Kong drivers are mindful of traffic laws and remain very alert while on the road. This is what has kept the city's bustling traffic from degenerating into chaos.

Hong Kong traffic is among the densest in the world, and yet Hong Kong remains one of the safest cities to drive in. Only 0,23 people per 1,000 die in car accidents there every year.

The Japanese may even be more law-abiding drivers than people in Hong Kong.

In Japan, one will discover that almost nobody steps on the gas or stops in the crosswalk when the light turns red. Nor is this the exception, but the rule.

With around 80 million cars across the country, Japan is the world's kingdom of cars. With its economy on the rise in 1970 it experienced 16,000 traffic fatalities. In the last few years, with its economy going in the opposite direction as that of Taiwan, traffic deaths have been declining. Last year they fell to just 6,871 -- the lowest in 40 years.

Media reports said that Shaw's accident was caused by someone incorrectly trying to pass on the outside shoulder.

In the West and in Japan, it is customary for cars to pass on the innermost lane, be it on a two-lane or a three-lane road. Unless there is traffic, when a car approaches from behind, the car in front must make way by moving to the right.

Taiwan still hasn't established such driving ethics.

Taiwanese drivers have grown accustomed to staying planted in the left inside lane, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the large trucks and tour buses on the outside. However, this means that overtaking cars have become used to passing on the right.

Most Taiwanese drivers on the highway don't worry about what others are doing or look in their rear-view mirrors as frequently as they should. Drivers on the inside lane often don't see the cars approaching from behind, so the overtaking cars flash their headlights or honk.

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