Driving in Taiwan

Once you’re used to it, it’s not really that bad, but the journey getting there is terrifying and nerve-racking. I was getting sick and tired of having to walk everywhere (my town has no public transportation system).  I had thought about getting a scooter for a while, but was still concerned about license issues.  I didn’t have an international one, and couldn’t get a Taiwanese one yet.  Also I didn’t want to do anything here that I wouldn’t do in Canada (like drive without a license).  Silly me.  Although I will be getting my license soon, at the time I was unaware that almost all foreigners drive around without licenses.  Finally the frustration of not having wheels overtook my fear of the law and whatever moral highground I was trying to maintain, so I bought a scooter. It cost me 12 000 NT ($400 Cdn).  Named Bronx.

The steroetype is that Asians are terrible drivers.  And now I understand why that steroetype exists.  While a lot of people follow the rules, a lot don’t.  Here’s a few differences between what I’m used to and what happens here:

  • There are no stop signs.
  • A red light doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will stop. More of a suggestion.
  • Larger vehicles don’t much concern themselves with “right of way rules” because they can crush you.
  • Turning left at the lights is sort of a race….motorists try to complete the turn before the traffic opposite them starts moving through.
  • People will overtake you on the left, the right (sometimes simultaneously on both sides) and, if they could, through you as well.
  • Even though they have a special lane, scooters are continuously weaving in and out of traffic.
  • You CANNOT turn right on a red.
  • And my personal favourite, people speed up, overtake you, then slow down to turn right…cutting you off.  And my thoughts run along the lines of:

When a lot of people are driving like assholes, the rest of the population learns to adapt and even anticipate the actions of said assholes.  Unlike the fairly tame driving conditions in the west, a motorist in Taiwan must be ready to face a tangled gasoline jungle everytime he hits the road.  This leads to developing aggressive driving habits, which you need, to be able to flow with the traffic.  In addition, driving a scooter means you can go anywhere…wrong side of the road, sidewalk…it’s all fair game.  This mentality is sometimes also applied to cars, and because of this, you have senarios where if he can fit, he’s going…regardless of the rules.

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As if to prove my point, I just got a  call from my girlfriend to inform me that she got into a car accident on her way to work.  All is well, but it struck me as very strange that she should call just as I am writing about driving in Taiwan.  Is that fate proving me right?  Or is it the Taiwanese traffic gods sending me a warning?  Weird!  Anyway, back to driving awesomeness.

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So, just like taking a tiger out of the jungle and putting him in a daycare will cause problems, taking the Asian driver out of his normal driving habitat and putting him in a more sedate driving environment will upset things for a while.  Until he learns the new norms, he will  stick to his old ways and be temporarily disruptive.  This, I believe, is a contributing factor to the “Asian driver” stereotype.

All that being said, there are some positive aspects of driving here.  Some argue that drivers here are very good because they can survive and thrive in much worse traffic conditions than we are used to.  They have developed a sixth sense to prevent getting run over by trucks or clipped by scooters.  The available space is used very efficiently and somehow traffic flows very smoothly.  I have not been in a traffic jam yet.  Also because agressive driving is the norm here, I have not seen any road rage.  Regardless of what happens, everyone seems to take it in stride and move on.  This may also have to do with the Asian psyche and the concept of face, but that is another topic.  In any case, even accidents are dealt with calmly.  They are usually resolved between the two parties without involving the police.  I have seen minor accidents where, after a brief examination of the vehicle, they just drive off and go about their business.  No exchange of insurance or numbers etc.

In fact, recently, I clipped a side mirror on a Mercedes.  I pulled over and stopped, figuring that I’d have to pay for the repairs and thus end up eating instant noodles all month.  There was a pretty big scratch and a dent in the mirror.  The owner, after looking at it, smiled and waved me off.  Then he drove away, leaving me standing there with my insurance papers and license in hand.

I am now used to the road conditions where I live, but have still not driven in a big city.  I’m sure that will be a different experience all together.  For now, I’m quite happy puttering around small town Taiwan.

2 Responses to “Driving in Taiwan”


  1. 1 kiwipom91 March 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

    And I thought it was bad when people sometimes forget/don’t bother to indicate!


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