One of our biggest problems with Taiwan – maybe our only big problem – is road safety. That doesn’t just go for seat belts (or lack thereof) in taxis and crazy scooters but also for pedestrians.
The other night was a typical example of that. We were on the sidewalk waiting to cross Renai Road (仁愛路) at Xinsheng South Road (新生南路) when suddenly we hear a horn behind us. What did we see? A taxi driver driving down the sidewalk and trying to get onto Xinsheng. After stepping out of the way (did I mention we were on the sidewalk?!) I snapped this photo:
Don’t mind me; just drivin’ on the sidewalk
A few seconds later, the taxi drove down the pedestrian zebra crossing in order to merge into traffic:
Pedestrian crossings: not just for pedestrians any more
Did I mention that this was directly in front of the police station?
Taipei must be one of the only cities in the world where you need to look behind you for cars when standing on the sidewalk (any crazier place, like Hanoi, wouldn’t have giant sidewalks). Taipei (and most of Taiwan) only has the illusion of having traffic laws: there are wide roads, clearly painted lines, plenty of traffic lights, and sidewalks big enough to drive a taxi down. And if you think the taxi drivers are bad, just wait until you see the bus drivers!
We’re over 4 months into our stint here in Taiwan, so its about time I post a few pictures of the obvious annoyance to Westerners: Taiwanese scooters. The city is full of them, yes. This is Asia, its a common thing, the majority of commuters use scooters, I get it. They weave in and out of traffic, have free reign over sidewalks as they beeline to a parking spot (which by the way seems to be any spare piece of cement not already occupied by a scooter). They absolutely do not yield to pedestrians carrying small babies at intersections (this I can firmly atest to) and seem to have no environmental emmision laws since most of them sputter out grey puffs of pollution conveniently right at baby stroller level. That’s all fine and dandy. The real shocker to me is the bizarre things people transport on their scooters. Within the first week here we already had the shock of seeing our garbage collection dude hauling our trash away on his scooter, but here is a collection of other bizarre sights I’ve seen:
And don’t think these guys go any slower than the rest. You’d think a 6ft mound of trash on your scooter would slow you down on those turns. Nope, they just make being a baby carrying pedestrian just that much more fun.
(next instalment, people and animals on scooters)
My #1 issue with Taipei – and the #1 thing that would keep me from returning – is road safety. The streets of Taipei are crazy. Yes, they’re a lot less crazy than they used to be, but there are still a lot of nutjobs. And it’s not just for drivers and passengers, but pedestrians too. Sylvia has been almost run down by drivers going the wrong way down one-way streets, driving down crosswalks (not through – down the crosswalk in the direction that pedestrians walk), and driving on sidewalks. And don’t even get me started on the scooters!
The Government of Canada’s Travel Advisory page for Taiwan puts it well:
Driving habits in Taiwan are often more erratic and reckless than in Canada. Driving or riding motorcycles is dangerous and should be avoided, even by experienced motorcyclists. Substandard road conditions and local disregard for traffic laws result in frequent accidents that cause serious and even fatal injuries to foreigners. Motorcycles and scooters weave in and out of traffic.
Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an end in site to the insanity on the roads, but as a regular taxi passenger it’s good to see that at least we’re going to get seatbelts in the back of taxi cabs, after Nora Sun (孫穗芬), a granddaughter of Republic of China (ROC) founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), was severely injured in a car accident on New Year’s Day.
This has been a major annoyance for me for years: taxi drivers in Taipei routinely remove, hide, or otherwise cripple the seatbelts in the back of their taxis. And if you do manage to find or repair the seatbelt and use it, the driver usually takes offence; I’ve heard it’s because you’re insinuating that he isn’t a good driver – and he probably isn’t – but it’s the other nutjobs on the road I’m more worried about.
Score one for road safety! Now, if only they could go about enforcing the other road safety laws they already have … and will Taipei County (sorry, “New Taipei City” now), where I work, follow suit?