Fri, Jan 14, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Traffic rules take a backseat

The issue of seatbelt use in passenger cars has once again come to the fore after Nora Sun (孫穗芬), a granddaughter of Republic of China founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), was seriously injured in a car accident in which she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. And once again, government officials proved their shortsightedness when they jumped into the political arena following the accident.

Nora Sun was in the backseat of her friend’s car, a four-door sedan, on their way to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on the Jianguo Overpass when their car was struck by another sedan. Nora Sun was not wearing a seatbelt, which probably increased the severity of her injuries.

In the ensuing rush to capitalize on the press frenzy surrounding a traffic injury involving a high-profile person, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) couldn’t help but weigh in. As of Tuesday, all taxi cabs in Taipei were subject to roadside checks to ensure that they have seatbelts properly installed in the back. If they do not, they’re liable for fines of about NT$1,300, and could have their taxi licenses revoked if they don’t install the safety equipment within a month.

Sounds all well and good, but why did it take the injury of a high-profile person to prompt the Taipei City Government to enforce rules that already exist? Under present law, all motor vehicles registered after July 1, 1991, must have safety belts in the front, while sedans must have them in the front and back. Thousands of people are injured or killed each year in accidents because they aren’t wearing seatbelts. Does the government care about them?

And why just taxi cabs? Why aren’t all cars in Taipei subject to roadside inspections to ensure that they have safety belts in the back? In many countries, the driver is held accountable if any passenger in the car neglects to wear a seatbelt. All seats are required to have them and all passengers are required to buckle up. However, instead of making a comprehensive effort to get all vehicle passengers to buckle up, Taipei takes its first shot at taxis, probably the most visible cars on the road.

This is reminiscent of the aftermath of a serious accident in November 2006 involving then-Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and his wife, Shaw Hsiao-ling (邵曉鈴), who lost part of her arm and her spleen when she was thrown from a minivan on a freeway near Tainan. Shaw was not wearing a seatbelt. To address this danger, the legislature passed an amendment to Article 31 of the Road Traffic Management and Punishment Act (道路交通管理處罰條例) requiring occupants of passenger cars to buckle up on freeways.

In that case, as in Nora Sun’s case, rules were passed or enforced following the injury of a high-profile person, while those calling for the rule change completely missed the point. Although it makes sense for passengers to buckle up on freeways, why only there? Car accidents happen far from freeways too, so this rule could have been broadened in scope to include all car passengers anywhere in Taiwan.

In another example in April last year, former ambassador to Guatemala Lu Yi-cheng (陸以正) was hit by a car while crossing a road in Taipei, prompting city officials to station more police at intersections to ensure pedestrians get the right of way, a rule that already existed. However, after the political hubbub died down, Taipei streets went back to their chaotic, dangerous norm.

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