Korea, which maintains the highest suicide rate among major developed nations, remains just a step away from regaining another disgraceful No. 1 position ― in traffic fatalities.
According to the latest data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the number of Koreans killed on the road reached 105 per 1 million people in 2011, the second-highest among the 31 member states surveyed. The figure marks an impressive improvement from 218 in 2000 when the country topped the list, but is still much higher than the OECD average of 63. Korea recorded the highest traffic fatality rate in 2003 for the last time before its ranking gradually went down to the sixth in 2007.
Korea’s resurgence in the OECD list despite the decrease in the number of people killed in traffic accidents means that the pace of its improvement has been slower than achievements by other advanced countries.
Most Koreans still remain indifferent toward road safety. According to a survey by Road Traffic Authority, a state-funded institution, the proportion of Korean drivers observing the stop line decreased to 69 percent last year from 77 percent a decade earlier. A separate poll showed more than 4 in 10 Seoul citizens had jaywalked at least once.
This cocktail of recklessness left Korean pedestrians as the most vulnerable among developed countries in 2011, with 4.1 deaths for every 100,000 people, compared with the OECD average of 1.4.
In a move that should have come earlier, law enforcement agencies and municipal governments have recently strengthened efforts to reduce traffic accidents. It is laudable that the prosecution has decided to arrest all drivers committing fatal accidents in violation of traffic rules. Drivers must be more careful to follow regulations on the road before complaining about the harsh punishment.
Last month, the Seoul Metropolitan Government unveiled a set of measures aimed at halving the number of people killed on the road over the next six years. The capital city should set an example for other cities and provinces by achieving that goal.
More fundamentally, Koreans should become more accustomed to abiding by basic rules that keep everyday life safe and stable.