Taiwan has been praised globally for its containment of the COVID-19 outbreak amidst the worldwide struggle to control the pandemic. Its swift response, excellent health care system, and full transparency since the beginning of the outbreak is a model to be followed by the world.
Despite this success, there is another critical public safety issue that has been overlooked by Taiwan for too long—its road and traffic safety record. Although Taiwan is generally a safe nation to live in, simple things like crossing the street, riding a bicycle or even walking on the sidewalk can be a dangerous adventure. Sadly, its traffic death rate is more than three times compared to other developed Asian nations such as Japan or Singapore. Last year alone, there were 457,382 people killed or injured in traffic accidents in the country, with an estimated social cost of more than NT$500 billion.
Taiwan’s goals after this pandemic is contained worldwide, will most likely focus on boosting tourism and the local economy. This is reinforced by President Tsai Ing-wen’s (???) goal of tripling the tourism industry in the next 10 years. However, for this goal to be achievable, Taiwan should tackle its chronic road and traffic problem. Only by doing so can Taiwan prevent foreign tourists from getting injured or killed while traveling the country, which could lead to negative word-of-mouth and media coverage that will prevent more people from visiting the country. By knowing that their children can walk safely in the streets of Taipei, for example, tourists will be more encouraged to bring their families for a visit. This is Taiwan’s chance to establish itself as a premier destination in Asia to visit, invest, or even to live in a post COVID-19 period.
To achieve this, Taiwan needs to address the root of the problem—motorcycles. Taiwan has one of the highest per capita rates in the world, at 0.94 motorcycles per household. The risk of sustaining an injury on or due to a motorcycle is high as it is the most common cause of road accidents in Taiwan, representing 50% to 60% of the total. Since scooters are relatively cheap, convenient, and an integral part of Taiwanese culture, almost everyone owns one.
To increase safety on the roads and sidewalks, Taiwan needs to reduce the number of scooters in circulation and encourage more people to take public transportation, bike or walk. To do this, it can decrease the convenience of scooters as a mode of transportation and establish a “Pedestrian First” policy, where the most vulnerable people in the “traffic chain” are protected.
Although recent measures, such as green-painted sidewalks in streets where pedestrians had to previously share the road with scooters, bicycles, and cars, have increased safety, this is still not enough by standards of developed countries. In order to save human lives and decrease the country’s hefty social cost, Taiwan must take bolder measures that may not be popular with voters or the strong lobbying efforts from the scooter manufacturers.
Here are just some of the important measures that could be taken:
Establishing heavy fines and penalties for scooters riding or parking on the sidewalks, and for vehicles that do not give pedestrians right of way or run them over on the crosswalk.
Building proper and exclusive bike lanes, not just painted lines on the sidewalk.
Limiting motorcycle parking to street level and charging hourly parking fees.
Installing cameras that capture crosswalk violators.
Educating citizens, starting at a young age, about road and traffic safety to gradually change Taiwan’s traffic culture.
Implementing stricter controls regarding jaywalking as pedestrians also have to contribute their part for the system to run smoothly.
Building more public transportation and reducing its fare as an incentive for people giving up their scooters. This can be subsidized by the social cost savings from fewer traffic accidents due to fewer scooters on the streets.
Taiwan must start reconsidering its road and traffic system to increase safety, boost tourism, reduce air and visual pollution and increase the standard of living for all its residents. Taiwan should not wait any longer to adopt the necessary changes to protect lives. It must start now.