I never gave much credence to the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers, but after 2 years in Korea I've changed my mind. Koreans are the WORST drivers. This is not just my opinion, it is supported facts; Korea is number 1 in OECD countries for car fatalities and for child deaths by traffic accident.
Traffic laws are treated as guidelines. Drivers often run red lines, merge/ change lanes without looking, drive up on the sidewalk, don't stop until the last second and then slam on the brakes, and in general seem completely oblivious to the other cars and people around them. Practically every time I'm on the expressway I see sometime type of accident. Just the other day I was with a coteacher and a car started to drift into our lane nearly hitting us. Even though the driver saw us swerve to avoid being hit, she didn't alter her path and continued to drive down the middle of 2 lanes. Another time my coteacher and I were driving down a one way street, at the other end of the street a car pulled out and started driving towards us (I don't who was driving the wrong way because cars were parked in both directions along the side of the street). Both drivers saw the other car but continued to drive down the street as if nothing was there. They then acted surprised when they couldn't pass each other and created a situation that took 15 minutes to get out of. All I could think while watching them try to back out and maneuver around each other was "What the hell did you think was going to happen?!"
In November this past year, a Korean woman passed the written portion of the driving exam on her 950th attempt. Her first failed attempt was April 13, 2005. She proceeded to take the test every weekday after that, spending over $4,000 USD in application fees, until she finally passed in November 2009. After 949 attempts you'd think she would ace it, but no she got a 60 out of 100, the minimum passing score. Basically, she is a complete idiot and in my opinion should never be allowed to drive (she still has to pass the behind the wheel portion). This would never happen in America because (at least in Wisconsin) you can only take the same test 5 times within a one- year period. Even more shocking is how Korean people view her; they admire her resilience, tenacity, determination, and perseverance.
Her story isn't the exception to the rule either. It took a man 5 years and 271 tries before he passed. He was illiterate and had to take the verbal exam (I'm not sure how I feel about someone who can't read being able to drive), but apparently "he had [a] good memory and could remember and then analyze his mistakes." This man couldn't read and was able to figure it out before a literate woman, so she is an even bigger idiot than I initially thought. She could win an award for being the dumbest person in the world, but Koreans admire her. Most kids back home can get at least a 50% on the written test before even taking drivers ed. I realize that I might get blasted for my harsh criticism of this woman. Korean's have the right to admire her if they want, but there is no excuse for failing a test 949 time so I will mock and ridicule her complete and utter ineptitude.
I might view all this as more of an annoyance and be less infuriated and disgusted by it all if weren't for two incidences that happened to me a couple of months ago...
The first incident was with one of my 3rd grade classes. The bell rang, the students came in and sat down. There are always a few stragglers so I pointed to the first open seat and asked "Where is he?" The boy next to the open seat looked around the room nervously but didn't say anything; they usually say "late," "sick," or "bad student" when I ask where someone is. Irritated, I asked again and still the boy said nothing. The Korean teacher then shouted at the boy to tell her where the missing student was. They talked for a couple of minutes and she turned to me and said "He died last night." Shocked and feeling like an ass for getting irritated at the kids for not answering, I asked her what happened. She said, "His hogwon bus ran over his head." Now I was horrified.
Later in the day I got the full story from some other students. After his hogwon bus dropped him off, he was goofing around with some of his friends on the sidewalk. Somehow he fell into the street. The students yelled at the bus driver to stop but he didn't listen to them and ran over the boy with the front tires. He paid no attention to the bump which other students on the bus felt, ignored the increasingly desperate pleas of the students on the street, and continued to drive off crushing the boy's scull under the back tires. Then he finally stopped, the boy was already dead.
The school's response to this horrific incident furthered my anger. They did nothing. Despite the administration knowing about the boy's death before school started, they made no attempt to notify the teachers. Every class the students went to that the day the teacher probably asked where the boy was and in every class the students had to explain how he had died. Numerous students were on the street and witnessed their classmate and friend die or where on the bus and felt him being run over. All the teachers I talked to commented on how traumatic it must have been for the students and agreed that it will be extremely difficult for them to get over. Yet no grief counselors were brought in and no help was offered to the students (both would have happened in the States). It was business as usual at school.
The second incident happened about a month after my student was killed. I was waiting for the bus in the morning when I heard a blood curdling scream. I looked down the street and saw a middle school student (not one of mine) had just been hit by a car; he was literally knocked out of his shoes, and was lying in the middle of the street. The car that hit him was long gone. People were staring at him, cars were driving around him, but no one was helping him. I ignored my instinct to help him because for one, I was actually pretty far away and assumed one of the 50 plus people around him would help and two, with my very limited Korean I knew there was little I could do to help. After a couple of minutes an adjossi on the corner, offering no assistance, yelled at the boy to get out of the middle of the street. The boy struggled to get up but immediately collapsed, one of his legs was obviously broken; he tried to drag himself to the curb. Finally a woman went out to help him and then a taxi pulled up beside him to shield him from the other traffic. When my bus drove pass him I could see his cloths were pretty much shredded, he was cut all over, his leg was in an unnatural looking position, and his face and the front of his shirt were cover in blood.
Accidents like this are by no means uncommon either. In the 2 years I've been here I know of 6 people (including the 2 above) who were hit by a car. Three of them died, they were all children.
Two other examples of bad driving (no death)