Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A New Scooter Driving Test

Aside from reservoirs and waterways, one of my other interests in Taiwan is traffic, road design and driving psychology. One of two basic questions behind this interest is how best to improve traffic safety in Taiwan without disproportionately disturbing the trajectories of other relevant values like speed and convenience. There is an article in today's Taipei Times about a new scooter driving test to be implemented in June this year which has four additional criteria...
"Four new criteria have been added, including the ability to perform a hook turn when making a left turn at an intersection, to change lanes, to make a right-angle turn and to stop and start, the directorate said."
Some explanation may be required for that "hook turn": in Taiwan, drivers of scooters and motorcycles are prohibited from performing left-turns at major intersections; instead, they must enter the intersection on a green light and wait in a designated box on the adjoining road for the subsequent traffic light change. Of course this prescription is routinely ignored everywhere in Taiwan outside of Taipei city.

The new item on changing lanes appears to be about the use of indicator lights (note: this was - incredibly - absent on the previous version of the test), whilst the new item on right-angle turns seems to relate to the speed and stability with which they are made (drivers are to be prohibited from touching the ground with their feet whilst performing this manoeuvre). That there is a new criterion about stopping and starting... well I mean that just beggars belief really doesn't it?

Were I tasked with trying to answer the question I outlined in my first paragraph, adding these four new criteria to the test is not something I would consider. Driving tests in Taiwan have long been a dark joke, and these additional criteria just make that joke even worse. Whenever life seems to be good, there is always that short, sharp shock of horror I can summon up when I think of the other countries and States that agree to mutual recognition of driving licenses with Taiwan. I mean, take a look at youtube collections of Taiwanese traffic accidents and then ask yourself the question: what the fuck were they thinking?

But today's story hasn't come out of nowhere. About this time last year there was another story in the Taipei Times about the Directorate-General of Highways altering the written form of the scooter and motorcycle test to draw from a far larger battery of potential questions than previously...
"Vehicle Division Director Lin Fu-shan (林福山) said that the agency decided to reform the driver’s exam to enhance the defensive driving skills of motorcyclists... Lin said the number of possible questions to be used in the test would increase from 634 to 1,606, including 682 multiple-choice questions and 924 true-or-false questions."
That is quite a staggering increase in the number of potential questions (the number actually included in the test will be fifty). Was this intended to produce safer drivers, or to reduce the pass rate for the test, requiring more people to take it multiple times and thereby increase revenue?

Are we really expected to take seriously the 972 questions added to the written test last year and the four criteria added to the road test this year? How anyone with experience of Taiwan's traffic culture can sincerely believe that these additions are the best way to improve road safety in Taiwan is beyond me. More believable is that these changes are an attempt to appear to be doing something merely intended to improve traffic safety. In other words, they're just covering their arses in the way most familiar to them from childhood onwards... testing and studying.

So what would I do?

I'm not sure, since I haven't done the research which I think should be done on this subject. But I can describe what I think are three reasonable changes which shouldn't be too expensive to implement and which, if they succeed in altering driver behaviours, might lead to a large reduction in traffic accidents...

1) A general emphasis on attentional focus, scanning, mirror-checking and blind-spot glances to be attempted through social media and public awareness campaigns.

2) A similar approach to vehicle maintenance with particular emphasis on monitoring the life-span of consumable parts such as tyres, brake pads and cables, chains, gear rings, drivebelts and so on so that they can be replaced in good time.

3) Relocate speed traps away from large, dual carriageway roads where it is possible to overtake and few pedestrians are likely to encroach to small, single lane roads which run adjacent to busy markets and street-lined shops and where pedestrians are constantly swarming in and out of the road between parked cars.

If I asked a large sample of other westerners in Taiwan how to best improve traffic safety, I suspect the most popular answer by far would be stricter and more consistent enforcement by traffic police of existing traffic laws. But I think this may be a mistake, as I have argued previously: law and punishment is not an adequate substitute for personal responsibility. And that is because we are rational animals, not "fleshbots".

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