A pack of scooters whiz by on a lone road in Green Island.
There’s one thing, I’m sure, that everyone in Taiwan will agree on is the high number of scooters on the road and the crazy traffic conditions here. Every country in Asia has their own particular brand and set of traffic rules and regulations and it’s up to the traveler to decide how to deal with them.
In China, I would stand for ages on a busy street, looking both ways and watching carefully for an opportunity to dart into the chaotic mess they call traffic. After careful observation of locals, I noticed that no one really looked at oncoming traffic. They just stepped out and trusted that people would drive around. It worked and I was soon crossing busy intersections like a pro.
In Thailand, it’s the crazy tuk-tuk drivers careening wildly and slightly out of control at each and every corner that cause me despair. No matter how hard I try, I’m unable to get used to the sensation of screeching around a corner on two wheels. I’m a liberal user of ‘holy shit’ handles, both in China and Thailand. When all else fails, these handles, cleverly located above the doors and heads of passengers, provide some small peace of mind and a tiny measure of passenger safety. They provide a good anchor when you’re sliding with all your gear towards the back end of a tuk-tuk.
In Taiwan, I deal with scooters everywhere, and I have to deal with heart-thumping moments when impact and sudden death seem unavoidable. Since sidewalks here are used for parking purposes, I generally walk on the side of the road. I’m constantly jumping out of the way as scooter drivers brazenly spin past me without a thought to my safety, or their own. Car and truck drivers are no better. Just yesterday I was walking on a small back street with an anxious driver behind me, blaring his horn and absolutely unwilling to wait until I had moved out of the way. Instead, he edged through a tiny area and clipped me on the hip with his side mirrors. He also managed to knock a bicycle stand over, thus preventing any other driver from using the street.
Scooters are the easiest and cheapest way to get around, but they are also the most dangerous to drive. The reckless and negligent driving that occurs here on a daily basis is simply mind-blowing. To date, I’ve seen at least a dozen scooter accidents, one involving a death on our way home from Taipei last summer.
Everyone knows someone who has suffered at least some form of minor injury on the road. This comes as no surprise. Taiwanese drivers are notorious for their devil-may-care attitudes towards driving. They weave through rush hour traffic with a death wish. They talk on cell phones. They transport all sorts of odds and ends by scooters, from propane tanks to dogs and children in saddlebags. They blow through red lights and blatantly ignore traffic rules of any kind. Surely an evolutionary adaptation in the coming years will be eyes in the back of the head, that is, if air pollution doesn’t take care of things first.
Statistics prove that the number of scooter and motorcycle related fatalities and major injuries are on the rise again, most of them occurring on city streets during rush hour.
Taiwan Headlines reports the number of traffic accidents involving death or injury is on the rise again.
“Two-wheeled vehicles are the most dangerous type of vehicle to travel on, with 487 (38.32 percent) of fatalities in traffic accidents riding motorcycles or scooters, followed by cars with 380 incidents (29.9 percent) and large trucks with 125 incidents (9.91 percent). “
Those are some frightening statistics, especially if you’re a first time driver in Taiwan.
A friend of mine recently joined the ranks of injured drivers in Taipei while driving her scooter yesterday. She slammed directly into the back end of a van. The driver cut her off without bothering to check his mirrors. The result? A cast on her right leg, stitches in her left leg, a broken nose, sprained hands and numerous cuts, bumps and bruises. Despite the accident, she remains optimistic, even though she might be faced with the possibility of surgery tomorrow. She told me today that ‘scooting’ opens up your whole world. She’ll be back on her scooter as soon as she’s able to drive again. Is this going to deter me from scooting? Nope, but I’m going to be extra careful the next time I hop on a scooter.