Words by Rob Ouwehand of Roboseyo
Last year, my wife and I got a car. While driving in North America can be a pleasure of life, Canada’s open road is nothing like what you’ll find in Korea’s cities. Year by year, Korea lingers at the top of the lists for highest car accident and pedestrian fatality rates in the OECD, and anybody who’s taken a taxi ride knows Korea’s city traffic can get wooly. However, these harrowing roadways can be navigated. From my own time driving, here are some pointers for surviving the streets without sacrificing your sanity.
The most important, possibly life-preserving rule, is simply this: what the cars around you are doing is more important than the lights, lines and signs on the road—by a huge degree. Whether that’s lane-weaving cars in the city or red-light-runners in the country who think nobody’s looking, the road signs are good, but awareness of your surroundings is better.
If you plan to drive in the city, ask first, “Do I actually need to drive?” Between traffic, parking scarcity and prices, and Korean cities’ ever-improving public transit systems, often a subway or bus is easier, less stressful, and even faster. If your destination is close to a busy city center, or it’s rush hour, public transit might be a better choice. If your destination is farther from the city center than you are, driving becomes a viable option.
Until all the world’s idiot drivers have stickers on their cars, you should drive defensively around the far right lanes. Buses, taxis, delivery bikes and trucks, cart-pulling seniors and a full complement of wet and dry goods vendors either dodge in and out of this lane—or even set up shop. Cars with tinted windows, especially imports, deserve an extra eyeball, too: they drive with a greater sense of entitlement than other drivers, and are most likely to cut you off, or block you from changing lanes. Meanwhile, bikers come out of nowhere and ignore any rule of the road that won’t help them deliver their pizza: use your mirrors a lot to stay aware of all four corners of your car. Taxi and bus drivers might be aggressive, but they’re also usually very experienced, for what it’s worth.
Like business or dating culture, driving also follows different logic in different countries, and what works well in one country might fail completely elsewhere.
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