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[Op-Ed] No. 1 in Pedestrian Fatalities

Posted September. 08, 2009 08:26,   


One hundred years have passed since Korea saw its first car and 34 years since the production of the first domestically produced model Hyundai Pony. The Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group is now one of the world’s leading automakers, churning out more than three million vehicles a year.

While Korea is a major player in the global auto industry, its lack of traffic law and order is one of the worst among advanced countries. According to the National Police Agency, the country had 215,822 traffic accidents last year with 5,870 deaths. As of 2007, the fatality rate per 10,000 vehicles was 3.1, fifth highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and more than double the OECD average of 1.5.

The number of pedestrian fatalities is particularly high in Korea. Pedestrians accounted for 37.4 percent or 2,304 of the 6,166 people killed in traffic accidents in 2007, more than the death toll for passengers (2,126), motorcyclists (794), and bicyclers (302).

The national pedestrian fatality rate was 4.61 per 100,000 people, 2.4 times higher than that of Japan and four times higher than Britain’s. Three-fourths of them were killed on narrow roads, including those in residential areas. Children in housing areas and near schools are especially vulnerable.

Many provincial and municipal governments are renovating roads to enhance pedestrian safety and convenience. The Seoul city government is removing overpasses and broadening pedestrian roads. In certain areas of the capital, pedestrian roads are wider than those for cars.

Busan has removed 21 overpasses and restored pedestrian crossings since 2005. Traffic experts say pedestrian walkways should be separated from vehicle roads in residential areas and urge the building of roads where pedestrians have priority.

Many accidents are caused by blatant violations of traffic rules, including illegal parking and jaywalking. More safety facilities will do nothing to improve the situation if people do not follow basic traffic order. If the government discounts or lifts fines for low-income people who commit traffic violations too frequently, traffic will not get better in Korea.

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