Monday, October 12, 2009

Road Rage

We were in the Seomyeon district of Busan when the first incident happened. A car accelerated at great speed from a crossing and hurtled down the road briefly before suddenly slamming on the brakes in a move I felt sure would have left two thick black tracks of rubber on the tarmac beneath it. Stationary traffic lay ahead, but it was perhaps the presence of a police car in the next lane which had caused a sudden change of heart by the driver. The offending vehicle had come shuddering to a halt next to it, and I was full sure I was about to see its driver get pulled over in one of the more obvious infractions of the law enforcement officers' day, but instead both vehicles set off when the lights changed and went their own way. Perhaps the paperwork was more trouble than it was worth. It was nothing compared to the second incident.

After lunch we were walking back down the same road, and in almost the same spot that the first car had begun to catapult itself down the road, we were treated to the odd sight of a stationary taxi with its path blocked by a stationary white car facing in the other direction - which had apparently crossed over the centre of the road into its path.

I was not ready for what happened next. The white car suddenly moved forward and, even though I was about 100 meters away, there was no mistaking the shudder of the taxi as it was rammed at low speed. Now what had been a scene of mild passing interest to the considerable number of people nearby became an incident which had claimed their full attention. I believe I counted around four or five seconds of collective disbelief where everyone seemed to be frozen in their places, before bodies began to rapidly converge to form a crowd of captive onlookers.

By this time I had run down the road to snatch a couple of photos. The taxi driver seemed to be as perplexed as the pedestrians and it wasn't at all clear what was going on or what the cause of it might have been. But as suddenly as it had happened, the driver of the offending car got back into it from some undetermined point, reversed, and slowly headed off down the road, before turning right at the next intersection and disappearing. Whether this hadn't been part of the plan I don't know, but it was at this point the taxi driver, who had pulled his vehicle into the other side by now, set off running after the white car at some pace, leaving me standing by the now empty taxi zooming into the images in my camera to see if I had captured the licence plate of the vanished vehicle. It was an instinctive reaction on my part, rather than perhaps one which was thought through. I didn't know the cause but I had just watched one driver deliberately ram another car in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Seomyeon, in front of a hundred witnesses, and then drive off without apparently having a care in the world. But I was urged to move on - it wasn't my problem, and it probably wasn't something I should be volunteering to get involved with.

As we walked away - and I kid you not - an entirely separate incident was emerging a little further up the road, with the drivers and passengers of two cars which had apparently not collided, nevertheless spilling out onto the street to initiate a clearly heated argument about some perceived infraction. Actually it was mainly the accompanying ajummas doing the violent finger-pointing.

I was on a bus a couple of weeks ago, waiting at some traffic lights. They changed and we set off, but inevitably traffic was still crossing ahead of us - and it was bunched up such that the last car in the chain came to a halt still in our path. The moment it stopped the driver of our bus must have realised that he was going to have to stop accelerating and apply the brake. He hit the accelerator instead, in fact so aggressively that the entire vehicle lurched forward in a momentary wave of g-force. This is of course entirely normal for Korean buses, but this was particularly pronounced. Stood as I was in the centre near the windscreen, I had a clear view of the car we were about to hit, and I knew that the bus driver had deliberately engaged ramming speed and that he had passed the point of no return - it was too late for him to stop in time. The driver of the car managed to find some space and get out of our path - had he not a crash would have been inevitable. More shocking - it would have been planned.

A few days ago I was in a taxi and our driver similarly targeted another vehicle, ensuring a crash without evasive action on the part of his intended victim. It's entirely possible that this country's abysmally unsafe driving has actually evolved into street warfare with vehicles for weapons while I've been away.

I spent around four hours in a car yesterday being driven around Busan. In those four hours I'd estimate we had around twenty of the kind of near misses that would occur once a year in England and be on your mind for days afterwards. As usual there were no rear seat belts, or usable rear seat belts at least, so the chances of death in any kind of serious accident are quite high. I have little doubt that our driver would have been oblivious to almost every incident, and blasé about the ones which might have been vaguely registered. I told my wife to never, ever, let me drive in this country, but I really wished it was possible to never be a passenger again either.

1 comment:

daeguowl said...

Drivers in Busan are renowned for being the craziest in Korea...

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