Implementing traffic “laws” in Taiwan

Driving a scooter in Taiwan is a hazardous undertaking – kinda like having an open wound and swimming in shark infested waters.  While there is a police presence it sometimes is a joke.  The implementation of the “laws” can be totally contradictory and make no sense.  Here’s a story of one such incident.

A friend of mine was driving home one day and made an illegal left turn.  In a lot of intersections in Taiwan scooters cannot just turn left.  They have to go straight on a green light to a little box, then turn 90 degrees and wait for the the next light to go green.  Something like this:

Usually at intersections requiring you to make this type of a turn, there are signs indicating that you must do so.  Unfortunately my friend didn’t see any, so following the scooter in front of him, he proceeded to turn.  And got pulled over.

The cop asked him for his license (which, like a lot of foreigners,  he didn’t have).  So he got a ticket for making an illegal turn as well as a ticket for not having a valid license – total around NT 7 500 (approx $ 250 US).  This is fine and makes sense.  He was at fault (ignorance is not an excuse, and he had the misfortune of getting busted) and had to pay the price.  Ok, cool.

Then this happened.

He pulled out his keys and started toying with them thinking that he was going to have to hand them over.  The cop was looking the other way.

So he put the keys in the ignition and started the bike.  The cop still seemed intensely interested in staring at some point a few feet away.

Revved the engine.  Cop paid no attention.

Drove a few feet, glancing at the cop and stopped.  Cop continued to be fascinated with empty spot on the road.

Drove away thanking his lucky stars.

Seriously??  Bust the guy for not having a license, then let him drive away ??

Now, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  I’m glad that my friend got away with a fine and a warning, because losing his scooter would have been horrible.

That being said, it seems totally contradictory to

  • Acknowledge that a guy has no license i.e. no right to legally be operating a motor vehicle on a public road

and then

  • let him then drive away on the very same public road.

No wonder so many drivers follow the rules with absolute rigidity don’t give a crap about the laws and drive like the roads are their personal playgrounds.  Unless one is an incarnation of the Buddha, it’s hard to want to follow the laws seriously if the punishment has no teeth.

Granted NT 7500 is a large fine, but if that’s the only consequence, it’s hardly condusive to instilling a healthy fear of the law.  Back home, driving with no license would result in a fine as well as the possibility of the car being towed at the owners expense.  But here it’s a “naughty boy” slap on the wrist.

While this type of loose justice worked for my friend in this incdent, it’s hardly something that is good for the society as a whole.  As long as the consequences for monkey-ing around on the road remain laughable, Taiwan’s traffic will continue to be a dangerous jungle.

EDIT: Here are a few things I didn’t mention about the fine

  1. If not paid in 2 weeks, it goes up.
  2. You cannot pay it at a 7-11 like most other fines and bills.
  3. If you try to leave the country without paying it, they will stop you and make you pay it at the airport – most likely with an additional “service charge” – thank you very much.

Ok so a few more teeth.  Heading in the right direction.


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