Rules of the Road
Traffic Jams are common place. Seoul registered its one millionth passenger car back in 1992 and now there are approximately three million of them of on the city’s streets. Result? There are major traffic problems daily, especially on rainy days, snow days, and Fridays. The bridges over the Han River can be choke points at rush hour and sometimes in-between, too.
Road Signs are often written in both English and Korean nationwide, especially in the center of the major cities, with the English print being a little smaller. Reading road signs is one of the best reasons for learning the easy-to-memorize Korean characters. The main problem lies in the placement of the signs – sometimes a few meters away and other times right at the junction where you need to turn off. The aggressive driving habits of Seoul’s bus and taxi drivers add to the problem of driving in general, but also to the challenges of figuring out the road sign and then moving into the appropriate lane.
In Korea, driving is on the right as in North American and most European countries, although walking is sometimes on the left.
Traffic Lights – especially red (stop) lights are often treated more as suggestions than as rules in Korea. The amber light is usually a mere flash between the red and green lights, but drivers still try to make it across the intersection which results in blocked intersections and/or cars straddling the pedestrian crossing. Technically, you should stop in front of the pedestrian crossing, although most drivers try to ensure that split-second head start they must have, by trying to be across when the light goes green – this often means cutting off pedestrians as they start walking. Many people still subscribe to the idea that those who drive are higher in status than those who are on foot and their driving reflects their attitude. It’s also not unusual to have the car(s) behind you lay on the horn to make you go ahead on a red (especially to make a turn) regardless of the light or of the fact that people are walking in front of you going across the road.
Right Turns on red are allowed. However, be very careful, because since the pedestrian crossing is often one or two car lengths beyond the intersection, people may be crossing. However, if there are no pedestrian you can go across. Yes, it will look as though you are running a red light, but you’re not. Note, though, that at many large intersections, you can only turn right on a specific right turn light.
Left Turns are disallowed except for where there is a left-turn light. Almost never are you permitted to turn left on a green light. If there is no left-turn light, keep driving until you come to a place were you can either make a left or U-turn. When turning left – on your signal – watch for the car driving the get through the 2-second amber.
Right-of-Way is frequently based on the principle of ‘might is right’. The larger and/or more expensive the vehicle the more ‘right-of-way’ it appears to have.
Watch out for taxies and buses. They present some of the biggest challenges to the novice driver in Seoul. Apart from the usual problems presented by ‘professional’ urban drivers, you have to watch for taxies that stop on the road (rather than moving to the curb) to pick up and let off passengers. Bus drivers seem often to forget that their vehicle is a little bigger than a car and move carelessly from lane to lane. They also tend to try and get as close to the intersection as possible for a quick take off when the light changes, consequently blocking the pedestrian crossways and/or even the intersection. Beating the light or getting through on the first second of red is a sport many drivers enjoy, but especially taxi and bus drivers, so be careful to look for speeding vehicles trying to beat the light before you proceed to move on green.
A driver and car are provided by some companies for their foreign managers, but not for their spouses. In some cases, the spouse uses the working partner’s driver/car during the work day, but that isn’t always possible – and some drivers (always male) resent driving for female spouses….and show it. However, these days more and more companies are opting to provide a car, but no driver; and spouses are getting their own cars and driving themselves. For those who find the local driving customs intimidating and the laws unclear or who have liability concerns and who don’t want to hire their own driver (which is possible), the infrastructure of taxis, buses and subways are an excellent alternative as it is very easy to get around the city using the public transportation system.
Emergency Vehicle Service: (through your auto-insurance provider)
- Free battery recharge service is available when the car battery dies.
- Free service for locking yourself out of the car.
- Free emergency gas service – 3 litres. Does not apply to vehicles
using light-oil or LPG.
- Free tire exchange service in case of a flat tire
Drivers can check their traffic/parking tickets through online efine (www.efine.go.kr) before they receive them through mail. However, you need a 공인인증서 (public key/digital certificate) to access your history. Once you receive a ticket, you can pay at the bank, post office, or online banking (you can see the special bank account number on the ticket or with credit card to www.cardrotax.or.kr (~1-2% user fee).
To find out at which bank you should make your payment, look on the left side of the ticket; you'll see the date and then the fine amount below it (twice) and below that is the bank name and account number.
NOTE: You will need access to Windows (Internet Explorer for cardrotax as you'll have to download ActiveX) to use the above websites. No access via Mac (as of Spring 2016).
You can refuse the ticket and go to police station for the full video and more detailed information, but success is not guaranteed
The police will have a car towed if it is illegally parked. Cars can be towed from areas where there is no towing sign posted.
If your vehicle has been towed:
- Look around the area where your vehicle was parked and see if you can find a piece of paper – it may be stuck on a pole, the side of a building, the curb, somewhere. You will know it’s for you because your license number will be written on it. From that you will see where the vehicle is now waiting for you. There is usually a phone number listed. A Korean-speaker can call and confirm that your vehicle is there and find out how much money you need to bring with you.
- If you can’t find the location of your vehicle and you are in Seoul, contact the Seoul Metropolitan Management Corporation or call the Automatic Response Service for towed vehicles: 02-2290-6300~5 (ARS) – again ask a Korean speaker for help.
- To recover your vehicle, you must go to the tow lot, show your driver’s license and alien registration card. You will have to pay a tow fee and a tow lot fee. (The tow lot fee should be at most W500,000 regardless of the type of vehicle). Tow fees can range between W40-50,000 depending on the size of the vehicle.
- To appeal the fine if the fine stems the vehicle having been stolen or from some other reasonable cause, the owner may appeal to City Hall within 10 days of the citation.
Unpaid fines can finally be paid at any bank or at the local gu-office in which the ticket was issued.
K4E Editor: Korea4Expats.com tries to be as complete and accurate as possible, so if you notice any omissions or errors in the information above, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated on 2016-12-29
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