Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Astrology & Driving: WTF?

"Cross-referencing the scofflaws’ date of birth, the office found that 1,282 of the offenders were Scorpios, or 9.2 percent, while 1,238 Capricorns came in second with 8.89 percent of the total."
The Taipei Times reports on new statistics released by the Taipei City Motor Vehicles Office.

Now then... either somebody is taking the piss, or the MVO are releasing stats demanded by the public or some VIP's housewife (it wouldn't surprise me), or one of the statisticians would probably be better off writing for a women's magazine.

One conjecture that might explain the terrifying stupidities of Taiwanese driving culture is the prevalence of superstition and what me might otherwise call "magical thinking". Somebody once told me, for example, that Taiwanese drivers will turn right at a busy intersection without so much as a glance at oncoming traffic to their left because to do so - to actually look to see if it is safe to move or not - will ensure "bad luck" and an increased likelihood of an accident. However, I have not yet met anyone who would actually own up to holding such a view.


There is a further point I wanted to add when I wrote this brief post this morning (I was busy and ran out of time), which is that I sometimes wonder whether - and how far - this "magical thinking" pervades the culture. For example, would one expect to encounter its' assumptions among people who work for the DMV or who conduct driving tests? I think it is possible. Consider this quote from the conclusion to the same Taipei Times article...
"...“Scooter riders should not violate traffic rules or think their luck might hold forever. This kind of behavior is dangerous to the riders and to others, and inflicts tragedies on many families,” office director Chen Tsung-chien (陳聰乾) said."
There are two possibilities. One is that Mr Chen has in mind scooter riders who blindly run red lights believing they will be lucky. Obviously these people are irresponsible morons and must be discouraged lest they injure or kill other people. The second possibility is that Mr Chen regards the traffic rules as a kind of magical talisman, which, if everyone obeys them scrupulously, will protect each and every individual from harm. Another way of putting that is to ask the question: are concepts of civic behaviour in Taiwan infected with new forms of superstition?

A thought-experiment I sometimes invite Taiwanese people to entertain is to posit a particular driving circumstance (e.g. the turning-right-into-a-busy-road-without-looking situation mentioned above) and ask them whether they would first look left to check for oncoming traffic even if there was no rule prescribing this. Obviously the correct answer is that you still should check first to ensure your own safety and that of others. The point I hope to raise, is that traffic rules - like nearly all rules - are instrumental in character; the important thing is the end (public safety) that the rules are designed to facilitate.

However, some of the rules are enforceable (e.g. traffic lights) and some of them are not, or are more difficult to enforce for various reasons (e.g. there is no obvious way to enforce the mirror-signal-move procedure without in-car surveillance which is objectionable on a number of grounds). For as long as that remains the case, the enforcement of and obedience to traffic laws can be no more than an adjunctive means of ensuring the safety of each individual on the road. The primary means must always lie with each individual driver being cognizant of the flow of risk and responsible to the value of safety for oneself and others. In other words, driving is an activity that must be governed primarily by a virtue ethics, and secondarily by a rule ethics. In some ways, Taiwan's driving culture does approximate this in a way the British driving culture (for example) does not, though I do not trust Taiwanese drivers in general and regard them as especially susceptible to jaw-droppingly appalling lapses in judgement.

Whether and how Taiwanese driving culture can be improved through better education is a very worthwhile question. A large part of the answer may involve eradicating the "magical thinking" and superstitious mental habits I suspect may lie behind some of the problem behaviours.

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