Saturday, February 28, 2009

A change in Korean driving patterns coming

A surprisingly good photo from my window, 3AM, two weeks ago.

Firetruck and car blocking access to hydrant at a friend's apartment complex.

The photos don't direct relate to the post below.

There were two articles in the Donga about a court ruling on criminal prosecution of insured drivers. The first, from the 27th is a news report, while the second, from the 28th, is an Opinion piece.

In the past, a driver in Korea with insurance could not be charged for causing an accident, except under 12 specific criteria (among them, drunk driving, speeding and hit-and-run)."[T]he traffic law served the legislative purpose of preventing the number of convictions from soaring and quickly resolving legal disputes" (2). The constitutional court found
the unconditional immunity for a driver violates the constitutional requirement to minimize encroachment on basic rights. The latest ruling was affected by the fact that most drivers are now covered by general liability insurance and that most drivers who cause accidents do not even appear before the victims, leaving all the damage-related tasks to insurers.(2)
“Though there are multiple options in punishment such as formal, informal and suspended prosecution depending on the cause of injuries and the severity of the mistake, giving immunity to an insured driver is against the Constitution because this is overprotection of basic rights,” the court said.

“Korea has an extraordinarily higher rate of car accidents than other (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, and such an immunity case is rare to find. (The immunity rule) tends to make drivers negligent in safe driving or leave what happens after the accident to insurance companies.(1)

I would be interested in what the 12 criteria for permitting criminal charges were.

It seems that drivers were able to walk away from accidents and not be held accountable. I think this is wrong. Ironically, my understanding is that if a car hits a pedestrian, the driver starts off being considered guilty and almost always faces charges. I think this is wrong, too. A drunk stepped onto the highway near Gangneung and my friend missed him. My friend would have been charged had she hit him.

Drivers are either too free of criminal charges or too threatened by them.

I have to admit that my experience with and complaints about Korean automotive culture relate more to low speed driving on back streets and where drivers think they can reasonably park. Still, this decision by the constitutional court seems a step in the right direction for making Korean roads safer.

ADDED Later: Welcome visitors from ROK Drop. There is a new article on the subject in the Korea Times, which I discuss here (honestly, the KT covers it well enough).

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