OPINION: Towards Safer Traffic in Taiwan — It’s Not the Culture that Kills

The News Lens
Date: 2017/02/13
By: By Ben Goren, TaiwaneseCulture.org

For traffic safety to radically improve in Taiwan, rather than design the streets to be convenient mostly

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / 達志影像

for cars, the built environment of cities and towns should be re-oriented so that it is convenient for pedestrians, mass public transit, and small size vehicles.

Living in Taiwan, as with any country, comes with its own particular advantages and challenges. One mundane but high-frequency challenge is getting around. Outside of trains and mass transport, there’s the choice of facing the hazards of using the roads as a pedestrian, cyclist, or a motorist. The risks of doing so is a topic that frequently pops up — a common denominator amongst foreign residents and Taiwanese alike. Complaining about the traffic is almost a cultural tradition here — a past time the author himself has contributed to in various fora including serious and satirical blog posts, Twitter, and in letters to newspapers. Much of the debate about why Taiwanese traffic is so hazardous has focused on the particular quirks of how the Taiwanese use the roads, often with a slight Orientalist tone. Taiwanese, many of us conclude, are bad drivers and have little inclination to follow the rules and laws of the highway most of the time. A running internet joke of foreigners states, “You know you have been in Taiwan too long when you look both ways before going through a green light.” A variation of the same joke only swaps “green” for “red” when in Rome.

You would be hard-pressed to find a foreign resident who does not have a personal traffic accident anecdote. I used to tell new arrivals that if they wanted to ride a scooter it would be a matter of when, not if, they would have an accident. Driving in Taiwan can be extremely hazardous, not always passively. In sixteen years of living here, the author’s personal tally stands as follows:

  • Hit by a car: 2
  • Hit another scooter at speed: 1
  • Hit by a scooter at speed: 2
  • Hit by a scooter at low speeds: 10+
  • Slid and fell off scooter: 2


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