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[Op-Ed] Walking-on-the-Right Rule

Posted April. 30, 2009 09:13,   


“Cars are on the right, people are the left.” This is a rule Koreans have heard so many times, but the statute is set for change with a walk-on-the-right rule for the first time in 88 years. In 1921, Japanese colonial rule began the rule on walking on the left. The habit of walking on the left and walking etiquette must be changed. The shift is not mandatory, however, and walking on the left is not banned. Escalators or entrance doors need to be renovated. The Presidential Committee on National Competitiveness told President Lee Myung-bak of the change as part of a plan to advance the traffic management system.

Before the Japanese colonial government adopted the walk-on-the-left rule, Koreans walked on the right. Walking on the left was the rule of the Korean Empire in 1905, but Japan changed it to its style. In 1946, the U.S. military government changed the rule for cars to the right but left the rule unchanged for pedestrians. The Korean military government in 1961 said, “Pedestrians must walk on the left on roads without sidewalks,” when it legislated the road traffic law. Since then, the walk-on-the-left rule has taken root.

Scientific studies have found that walking on the right is better because many people are right-handed and due to higher traffic safety. Right-handed people feel more comfortable when they walk on the right. Some surveys show that walking on the right reduces traffic accidents 20 percent. If pedestrians who walk on the sidewalk go on the left side, they are likely to be hit from behind by a car rushing to the sidewalk because they cannot see the car coming. But those who walk on the right walk while facing cars. Since they walk watching cars, they are at lower risk of accident.

Pedestrians in most major economies - the United States, France, Canada, Japan and China - walk on the right but only Britons walk on the left. This is a time-honored tradition that cannot be changed easily. Japanese colonial rule mandated all wagons and rickshaws to hang a flag reading “walk on the left.” The majority follows the rule when there is a sign or line such as transfer paths of subway stations, but people walk freely on the sidewalk. Seoul`s Songpa district, which was certified as a safe city by the World Health Organization, began a campaign of “walk-on-the-right” two years ago. It will be helpful if the district shares its experience with the whole country.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)