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Friday, February 26, 2010

Wish You All Safe Riding

I heard from a friend in Taipei that he and another rider were out when a cat ran out in front of them and the other rider went over the bars. The poor guy was taken away in an ambulance and last I heard was awaiting surgery on a broken wrist and other fractures. The guy will be off the bike for some time, which, as any cyclist knows, makes the pain hurt all the more. When we take on cycling as a part of our identities we become members of a much larger community. Although I have never met the injured cyclist, I feel for him and wish him all the best and a quick recovery. That just sucks!

Anyone who has spent more than a little transit time in the Taipei-Taoyuan International Airport will know that Taiwan's traffic pretty much sucks. Every driver on the road drives like a complete selfish asshole with no exceptions... they are guilty by default. When I drive I am probably an asshole too. It is a fact of life here.
Taiwan has one of the world's highest vehicle mortality rates in the world, possibly the highest, with double the number of traffic related deaths than in the United States. Between 50% and 80% of all accidents are motor vehicle related depending on the year (Selya, 2004).

"What is especially disturbing about accidents in Taiwan is that common sense policies and practices if but implemented could lead to a radical decrease in in both the number of accidents and the accident related mortality."-- Roger Mark Selya

I recently read through the entire driving manuel and it can be divided by category in descending order based on the question frequency as follows:

a) Easy Common Sense (Example: You should obey the traffic laws.)

b) Social Morality ( Example: If you are in a hurry you should not honk and yell at other drivers.)

c) Morality for Truck and Taxi Drivers (Example: If you hear passengers discussing a drug deal you should show love for your country and take them to a police station.)

d) Punishment and Fines (Example: Talking on the Handy Cell Phone when driving is a NT3000 fine.)

e) Safety (Example: You should stop at a stop light.)

I am often under the impression that the entire driver's education program is really not designed to promote good, safe driving, but rather to get students to pass the examination. There is an entire industry related to this and the approach is the same for any examination in Taiwan. Cram cram cram. I have run into cases where the police didn't even know the traffic laws and it cost me NT2000.

As cyclists, we are used to being low on the food chain and must adapt to survive. A few things I do to stay alive on the road:

1) Ride on the far left of the right lane. You can be seen by drivers and when they DO (and they will) blindly speed out of side streets. You also have room to move to the median between lanes.

2) If the light is green and has been green for some time... do not assume it is safe to continue through the intersection without slowing down. I have a regular descent I take at 40mph (64kph) and there is an intersection near the bottom. There are several times I would have been killed if I had gone through at full speed. Even though it takes away from the ride, I'd rather slow and crank back up to speed than die.

3) Assume everyone on the road will do the dumbest thing possible at any given time. Oh what I've seen....

4) Ride like you belong in the road. People often treat you just like a scooter (maybe a little better) and so they have no problem cutting you off or passing inches from you without realizing the danger. If you ride like you belong there you can negotiate a little more space.

5) When stopping at a red light, slow down, check your rear and stop in the scooter box at the front of the stop. In Taiwan people like to catch yellow lights... after they've turned red and often speed up to the intersection and can't always stop or assume you are going to run it too. Cars also use the opportunity to take fast right turns. before the traffic starts. I've seen a few rear-enders form this.

6) Be careful running "safe" red lights. I know lots of cyclists like to blow through lights if it seems safe because winding back up all the time can take a lot out of you. It is just that there are a lot of surprises and I know a few people who have gotten clipped doing this. Just... careful doing it.

7) Keep an eye on the betel nut stands... dangerous for the obvious reason, but also watch for drivers who just got their fix and are preoccupied with their craw full of betel.

8) Give busses the right of way. They will often quickly swing right if they see a passenger. I was forced into a parked car when a bus came from behind and swung right.

9) Be careful who you yell at. Since most cyclists don't have a horn (If you do send me pics.) The voice becomes the best tool to warn people or ... ahem!... let them know they've just done something stupidly dangerous and potentially life threatening. Still, taxi drivers are going to drive like that and nobody is going to stop them. They have radios and a dozen friends with metal pipes and bats under their seats... all at a moment's notice. Don't piss 'em off.

10) Unless you are a novice or slow cyclist, avoid bike trails and markets. Just don't go there.

And sometimes there is nothing you can do, like when a cat jumps out of the bushes.
I would just like to wish everyone safe cycling.

Get well soon Lucas! I don't even know you, but I understand.

1) Selya, Roger Marc.2004.Development and Demographic Change in Taiwan 1945-1995., p.p. 256-257.London. World Scientific Publishing Co. Ltd.

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