We are dumfounded at the report that the number of traffic accidents this year is forecast to be about 40 percent higher than that of last year. According to statistics released by the Korea Non-Life Insurance Association earlier this month, the number of accidents as of the end of September this year was 349,933, claiming as many as 498,964 casualties. This is a rise of some 40 percent on the same period of last year.
Considering the usual rise in accidents at the end of the year, the association said, the number of those either killed or injured in traffic accidents will reach 660,000 by the end of this year. To our surprise, the total number of casualties this year is almost the same as the population of such major cities as Chonju and Chongju.
Korea ranked third following China and South Africa in the number of fatal casualties per 10,000 vehicles as of the end of last year, according to the association. Korea, which registered the highest traffic accident rate in the world in 1992, is expected to return to the disgrace of top place if the current pace of accidents persists.
The association attributed the drastic rise in the number of accidents to the change in regulations permitting cargo trucks to use the inside lane, the raising of the speed limit, and drivers' failure to observe traffic rules. Another obvious reason is the rampant use of mobile phones while driving.
The authorities allowed large cargo trucks from early this year to use the inside lane of in major highways, which used to be restricted to passenger cars, claiming this would improve traffic flow and would lead to energy conservation. The lifting of the restriction, originally aimed at protecting small passenger cars, has contributed greatly to the increase in accidents.
The upward adjustment of the speed limit by 10 to 20 km is another major cause. The resultant high-speed driving is often linked to fatal accidents. In addition, the reduction in the number of police devoted to traffic control makes accidents more likely.
The number of traffic police, which stood at 10,147 in 1996, dropped to 9,992 in 1997 and 9,888 in 1998, in contrast to the rapid rise in the number of vehicles on our roads. …