In the first eight months of this year, 142 accidents involving scooters along Minquan E Road led to death or injury, according to Taipei City Police Department data cited in a report published on Tuesday by the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper).
The report also cited a researcher from National Chiao Tung University, who said that drivers’ failure to pay attention to the road, yield to other motorists or make proper lane changes were the most common causes of traffic incidents in Taipei.
Traffic accidents have long been a major cause of death in Taiwan, and something that has not been rectified despite the attention the issue has received from legislators. The Legislative Yuan’s Transportation Committee on Oct. 17 last year slashed NT$2 million (US$69,262) from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ fiscal 2020 budget, and froze another one-10th, for failure to adequately address the issue.
A report published on March 30 showed an average of eight deaths per day from traffic accidents last year, with more than 457,382 people killed or injured in total.
On Sept. 1, the ministry and the National Police Agency launched a one-month campaign targeting drivers for failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians at crossings or when turning. By Sept. 15, Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) had already hailed the campaign as a success, claiming that it had reduced the number of injuries in traffic incidents at intersections nationwide by nearly 50 percent.
While any effort to reduce traffic accidents is welcome, anyone could be forgiven for seeing the campaign, as well as the press event in Taipei where Lin made the comments, as being little more than a public relations campaign. No significant change to driver behavior could possibly be accomplished in two weeks. Such pervasive and deeply rooted habits of ignoring basic traffic rules can only be changed through legislation, aggressive and long-term enforcement, and a dynamic public ad campaign to teach people about the dangers of reckless driving.
In a June 2016 opinion piece on the News Lens Web site, political commentator and former Canadian House of Commons political aide Wayne Pajunen wrote that the generally good-tempered nature of Taiwanese was likely the only reason the nation’s traffic situation was not worse than it already is. Citing government officials, Pajunen wrote that “the main problem with enforcing Taiwan’s ample traffic laws is the immense labor force needed. The police force is chronically underfunded and understaffed.”
Police wrote only 9,396 traffic citations in 2016, which was down significantly from about 20,000 in 2001, he said.
Police in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, have also written fewer tickets in the past few years, but even with the decrease, police there handed out 200,788 citations for traffic offenses last year — and that was down from 700,000 in 2010. That is 10 times more tickets written per capita in Toronto than in Taipei. That greater ratio seems to have been a deterrent in Toronto, where police have reported 67 traffic fatalities per year on average for the past five years.
A lack of personnel means that Taiwan must be creative when enforcing traffic laws. Taoyuan police on Monday installed a smart traffic camera that recorded 812 illegal lane changes and other infractions in just one day. Of course, automated systems are not enough — the government needs backup enforcement with a public awareness campaign — but smart technology combined with redirected personnel during rush hour might be a good start. The government must not let more lives be lost to dangerous driving.
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