Strict gun laws effective
Joanna Walters’ piece from the Guardian, reprinted in the Taipei Times, misses the point entirely (“US must invest in ‘smart guns’ to reduce avoidable deaths, activists say,” Mar. 22, page 9). The solution is not smart guns. The solution is strict gun laws.
The US has more gun violence than Canada, Europe, Japan or Taiwan. There is less gun violence in Taiwan because there are fewer guns here because there are strict gun laws.
There is less gun violence in Japan because there are fewer guns because there are strict gun laws.
There are a lot of guns in Canada, but there is less gun violence because there are strict gun laws.
There are a lot of guns in Scandinavia, but there is less gun violence because there are strict gun laws. Specifically, there are universal background checks, all purchases are registered and semi-automatic rifles are strictly regulated.
Toughen drivers’ training
A recurring Internet joke amongst expatriates in Taiwan is: “You know you’ve been in Taiwan too long when … you look both ways before crossing a green light.”
It was interesting then to read last week that failure to yield, and a general lack of understanding about the concepts of “right of way” and “give way” has, for the second year running, been the main cause of fatal accidents in Taiwan (“Failure to yield cause of accidents,” Mar. 22, page 3).
Although some might argue that the reason for this is cultural, such a conclusion is presumptive and patronizing. On closer examination, the culprits are more mundane and likely lie in considerations urban planning, training, psychology and practice.
An analogy here is instructive.
As more aircraft entered the skies over the last century — and following extensive investigations after fatal accidents — aviation authorities came to recognize the importance of defining clear rules for management of the separation of aircraft both on the ground and in the air.
Every pilot understands this as a critical component of safe flying. Failure to heed these rules likely comes at a lethal cost. Thus airports are marked clearly and air traffic control ensures that everyone knows where everyone else is, and where they are going.
Only by understanding and constantly respecting these rules are we able to increase the volume of traffic to meet the demand for air transport.
Ironically, while air traffic is comparatively dense, road traffic is busier to a much greater magnitude. Yet, when it comes to training and the enforcement of rules, the government is behind the curve.
For example, although more driving schools are now taking their students on the road to practice, too many still resort to doing laps in a “practice yard.” This in no way prepares the driver for any number of dangers and obstacles one can face on real roads.
Observation is not prioritized, neither is anticipation of potential hazards. The concepts of right of way and give way are obviously not accorded the weight and importance they require — if they are even taught at all.
People are given licenses when they are clearly not trained to a sufficient degree to respect either other road users or the complexity of the environment they are operating their vehicle in.
As a result, we have erratic and selfish driving, contravention of basic traffic management rules and collisions galore. A daily staple of cable news are the almost inevitable — and now video recorded — stories of vehicular calamities, many of which could have been avoided if the drivers in question had either had greater awareness, keener observation skills, better control of their vehicle or had actually followed the signs provided.
The final part to the puzzle is urban planning. Towns and cities in Taiwan were not designed to handle the volume of traffic that passes through them. The roads are too narrow or feature “mini freeways” in the middle of dense urban areas, pedestrians clash with vehicles when both are given green lights, people park according to convenience, taxi drivers are a law unto themselves and buses are a chemical and physical menace to all.
People drive with the attitude of “it couldn’t happen to me” — a hazardous mentality that in a pilot would almost certainly cost lives.
Aside from radically revamping the urban transport infrastructure to clear pavements and roads of obstacles and keep traffic separated, but moving fluidly — a very expensive and long-term investment that is urgently required — the government must institute much stricter standards of vehicle license training and testing so that new drivers are equipped to drive safely and considerately.
Training should not be quite as hard as for new pilots, but it should run along similar principles. Passing a test and gaining a license should be conditional upon understanding that traffic rules are not optional, but mandatory, not because you may face punishment, but because it is the optimum way to ensure your own safety.
Respecting other road users, rather than seeing them as a hindrance to your own convenience should be at the heart of the curriculum.
Only then will we see this “culture” of driving insouciance and selfishness phased out, and with it, a corresponding fall in the number of needless daily injuries and tragedies.
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