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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Death An Expected Part of Cycling?

It is the holiday season again, and this is the time of year when I conduct my annual White Elephant gift exchange. Every year there is at least one student who tries to fudge the rules and cheat just a little bit by giving a second hand gift, or having mom go out and choose something stupid.

The rules are very clear: 1) Buy a gift valued between NTxxxx and NTxxxx. 2) Choose the gift yourself. 3) Choose a gift you wouldn't mind getting yourself.

These simple rules outline a sort of Rawlsian idea of Justice as Fairness and I can often use it as an example to teach some very basic ideas about justice, law and following even the little rules.

I will choose some examples in society where people try to "cheat" just a little bit and decide to break a small rule, that can have dire consequences. I usually choose construction codes and traffic.

Yesterday, a couple days after this explanation, one of my students returned from a one-day absence and I asked where she had been. She had been at her aunt's funeral. Her aunt was only 38 years old and had been riding an old bike to one of the markets.

Someone had decided to blow a red light, because they were in a hurry, and killed her aunty.

As a cyclist this really strikes a nerve. I am even more upset when I think about how the government spends money on cycling tourism over making an overall riding environment that is safer by enforcing the laws and managing safe bikeways.

I am sure this is "bad voodoo", but here is a sample of just some of the stories that have been circulating over the past month or so from the English speaking press.

Taiwan's traffic situation is much worse.


  1. That list makes me very sad indeed. I remember taking a ride in a taxi once and the driver complained about the danger of scooters and bike riders saying that it was easy to hit them when they turned or pulled over to pick up rides. Indicative of his attitude was the sense that he had the right to drive any way he liked and that it was the RIDERS who were an inconvenience and a danger and not himself. As a result, when I ride my scooter I consider busses, trucks and taxis as by far the most dangerous vehicles on the road - they don't signal, stop quickly and turn without warning. Taxis are the worst here because they will ignore all traffic around them to suddenly pull over to pick up a ride. They do not look because to do so would mean engaging a rational decision about the possible danger, especially in busy traffic and that might make them spend another vital sec or two by which time the space and time to manoeuvre has run out. So .. they just pull over and hope that anyone else using the road will be quick enough to react and avoid them. Same for buses which will pull over and out regardless of traffic conditions because "otherwise I'd never be able to do my job". The result: more cyclists and scooter riders dead every day.

  2. So here's the million NT question: Would you say that Taiwan's roads have become safer or less safe than when we first got out there in 1998? And what do the official statistics say?

    Of course there will probably be a natural increase, what with the increase of cyclists on the roads. Another thing to consider is that a lot (if not the majority) of accidents go unreported thanks to roadside cigarette diplomacy.

  3. Jason,

    Traffic accidents continue to be the leading cause of death for Taiwanese under the age of 50. This data in congruent with the body of data compiled by Roger Mark Selya, in his study:

    Here is a 2009 article from the Taipei Times.

  4. Eye-opening data on page 230. It's sad/hilarious that the top cause of death from ages 1-64 y.o. is accidents, and only then is it overtaken by cancer.