Sunday, 15 February 2015

"Mirror Signal Move"

Having now spent almost a decade in Taiwan (it will be ten years this May), one of the things I have learned to do in living here is to shrug my shoulders. Where once I would stare, mouth open in disbelief at some impossible thing, I now just shake my head, shrug my shoulders and walk on. However, I cannot always manage this feat. A couple of weeks ago, I got myself wound up over something that I probably should have left well alone.

I had tried to point out a technical error in a document concerning driving and road safety. It described the necessary procedure for changing lanes as "First use your turn signal and then check your mirrors". When I pointed out that this should in fact be the other way around, in accordance with the "mirror, signal, manoeuvre" procedural principal that is taught in driving lessons in the UK and elsewhere in the West, I was given the response: "what does it matter?"

(A brief digression may be in order: there are at least two reasons for prioritizing the use of mirrors prior to signalling. First, there is a necessary coordination function to be performed - the timing of the signal is important in many situations since the driver must allow those behind him sufficient time/space to notice the signal and react accordingly either by slowing down, or changing lanes. Second, there is the more general imperative for drivers to be aware of their surroundings at all times, since potentially fatal accidents can occur due to lapses in concentration, hence it makes sense to emphasize the prioritization of checking mirrors as part of maintaining the requisite awareness).

Upon questioning others about this, I was informed by one that "it's a matter of opinion", and by another that "it's just a cultural difference", and someone else even told me that I was flat out wrong, and that the correct order is "signal, mirror, manoeuvre". These were all Taiwanese people. Appalled by this, I asked eight of my other Taiwanese friends and acquaintances and only two of them gave me the "mirror first" response. But it wasn't just that. When I asked why, I was told that obviously you must use your turn signal first so that other people behind you can anticipate what you want to do. That response was particularly frustrating because it demonstrated that they hadn't even understood the question. Why first? Why should you use your turn signal before you check your mirrors? Your turn signal will be flashing anyway whether you've already checked your mirrors first or not. I pushed a little harder to try to get them to understand the question - which just upset them. I was met with the point-blank refusal to think about the matter any further.

This apparent failure on the part of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances to grasp the logic of the sequence did not sit well with me. So what did I do? I took my question straight to the DMV office to check with the driving school administrators there. I explained things to the woman who met me there several times in my best Chinese and she appeared to agree with me - mirror first, then signal. I asked her if she had some literature I could take away with me to prove my case and she answered that she could give me a poster to take away and went off to collect one for me from the store cupboard. However, she found that there weren't any left so she said I could just use my phone to take a picture of their only display version of the poster on the wall. This I did, but when I checked the Chinese text featured on the poster, it made no mention whatsoever of checking mirrors, let alone the imperative of checking mirrors before signalling. I couldn't believe it. All I could do was facepalm and go home. I really shouldn't have been surprised that the DMV would let me down, but I was baffled by the woman's apparent agreement with me - she agreed with me and then pointed me to a poster that pretty much said the exact opposite of what she was agreeing with. It is a disjunction that I find troubling - was she just agreeing with me thoughtlessly and on reflex just to get me out of the office? Or did she just not even understand what the hell I was on about? Some foreigner babbling about mirrors and signalling - whatever, just agree with him and give him something to take away. Here's the poster...

Previously I had always assumed that the countless instances of bad driving I see on the roads here every day was due to people disregarding what they had been taught, even if that had been taught to them flippantly and without the proper seriousness. It seems it may actually be much worse than that; the authorities at the DMV themselves do not even understand the basic principles of responsible driving. For a country with a very high traffic accident rate, this just isn't excusable. What I usually hear from the Taiwanese is that the accident rate is very high here "because there are so many scooters and motorcycles". It's one of those typical face-saving semi-lies that you get from time to time which is designed to prevent any further penetration of the issue.

No. I am convinced, and have been for a long time now, that the traffic accident rate in Taiwan is so high because of human error, compounded by cultural psychosis. When you cannot even begin to explain to your Taiwanese friends what the problem is, you know that it's actually much worse than you realized.


  1. Interesting post, thanks for sharing. I like what you said about how blaming bikes is a copout. I agree. It seems it is not a human error as much as a organizational or system problem.


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