Taipei enjoys a fine reputation with visitors for being an exceptionally safe city. Street crime is extremely low, with pick-pocketing and muggings being rare enough to draw headlines. However, one area which often draws criticism is road safety. Let’s look at how the roads of Taipei have changed in recent years, the changes that have been implemented to help improve the situation, and how it feels to live a life on two wheels in Taipei City.
Despite moves to address the issue of road safety with better city planning, wider sidewalks and bike lanes for example, many visitors express surprise at the speed of the traffic, and the poor driving etiquette that leads to a barrage of accidents and near misses on a daily basis. Another cause of confusion is that, unlike other major cities, pedestrians are not always allocated with exclusive crossing times at pelican crossings. It is not unusual for pedestrians to have to side-eye an errant car or bus driver as they make their way across the crossing, while drivers impatiently edge forward to turn into the road.
An already chaotic situation was compounded by the introduction of a city-wide public bike hire scheme in 2009 which has led to many more bicycles on the streets. While many public bike users choose to use the sidewalk or dedicated bike lanes, there is nothing compelling them to do so, other than the prospect of being on a significantly more dangerous road.
Another significant change in traffic conditions has been the recent proliferation of food delivery companies using scooters. These drivers working predominantly for Uber Eats and Food Panda, tend to be young, and on a piece-rate – the more deliveries they can make in an hour, the more pay they get. Alone this is a recipe for reckless driving, but there are also instances of such drivers working excessively long hours which significantly increases the risk of accidents due to over-tiredness and stress.
Should Might Ever Be Right?
An unwritten law of the roads in Taiwan is that ‘might is right’. If you are in a smaller vehicle then you should yield to the cars, taxis and buses that make up a large proportion of the traffic. As a former scooter driver and now frequent cyclist in Taipei, I am uncomfortably familiar with the sometimes heart-in-mouth sensation of getting cut off by a taxi swerving to the curb to pick up a fare, or getting side-lined as a bus suddenly starts indicating their intention to pull over (the loud indicator alert is usually the first sign).
Thankfully this is often no more than an inconvenience as you resign yourself to drawing to a stop and waiting for the obstruction to clear. However any long term resident will be able to tell you a tale or two of a near miss with a cab, or an irresponsible bus maneuver that has led to them at best to swear loudly at the offending driver. And we have all seen the detritus of a more serious accident as a scooter lies strewn across a lane near a stationary bus, hazards on as the police and ambulance service take control of the scene.
It comes as no surprise then that Taipei has an extremely high traffic accident and fatality rate: The Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Taiwan recorded 1,493 road fatalities from traffic accidents in 2018. This is a high fatality rate for a country of just under 24 million residents. The UK for example, with a population of more than 66 million residents, recorded 1,782 road fatalities in 2018.
Can Technology Help Reduce Road Fatalities?
While one might imagine that increased focus on driver education and higher penalties might be the only solution to stem the tide, increasingly technology is playing a leading role in the efforts to bring the situation under control.
Simple dash cams are common in Taiwan – private car drivers quickly recognized that the possession of video evidence could be extremely useful in exonerating them from claims of negligent driving in a dog-eat-dog legal environment. However the advent of smart driving systems has greatly enhanced the usefulness of such set-ups, particularly in the case of government vehicles such as public buses.
For those of us on two wheels, the recent initiative to install surround view cameras and sensors on public buses means that we have a much lower chance of being caught in the blind spot of these unwieldy behemoths. Bus drivers can check for the presence of scooters or cyclists and make decisions with vastly improved situational awareness.
In worst-case scenarios where an accident does occur, technology can now provide video evidence that can help determine, definitively which party is at fault. Advanced systems can also record useful information such as vehicle speed and specific behaviors such as hard braking, or hard turns. For drivers, the knowledge that their driving is being recorded and scrutinized in a way that it is admissible in court, acts as a deterrent against the prevailing attitude that smaller vehicles must take responsibility for avoiding accidents.
Efforts to harness the power of the latest innovations in tech to increase driver accountability and improve safety standards is one that is very welcome on Taipei’s streets. It is to be hoped that further improvements will be seen as these systems become standard in newly manufactured vehicles while older fleets are upgraded – a situation that would do much to improve the quality of life in Taipei, especially for those of us on two wheels.
Written by Phoebe Cassidy, writer and long-term resident of Taipei, Taiwan.
VIA enables companies to accelerate the development and deployment of innovative new transportation solutions and services that redefine public safety, convenience, and comfort. Solutions such as VIA Mobile360 ADAS technology and VIA Mobile360 Surround View Systems and other related technologies to meet specific deployment requirements – from buses and coaches on crowded city streets, to loading docks and construction sites.
Learn more about VIA Mobile360 Transportation solutions.