7/25/2010

How Many People Can I Squeeze on a Scooter?

Scooterists in Monga (艋舺), Taiwan. Note the driver of the one deeper in the pic has three kids on her scooter. They all have helmets on and she also has her chin strap fastened.

A long time ago I witnessed an accident in Yonghe (永和), Taiwan. A teenaged girl on a scooter mindlessly drifted across the lane and took out another driver. The driver and his passengers crashed to the street. Luckily, there weren't any cars behind them. The driver of the cut-off bike was naturally pissed off. He got up and, taking his helmet off and slamming it down on the pavement, let off a string of curses over top of the sound of his wife and two crying children. He was right. The girl was an idiot. But he was also wrong. Why? Well, he had had three passengers on his bike, making it extremely hard to maneuver. Had he only a single passenger, I think he would have been able to balance the bike. If it were just him, nothing would have happened.

One of the things that disturbs me the most living in Taiwan is seeing parents hauling around kids on scooters and motorcycles, like in the picture above. And that picture is a better-case scenario; I would have to say that more than 50 percent of the time, the children don't have helmets. When I look at their parents, who do have helmets, I don't think they are selfish, that they care only about their own safety. Instead, I believe they view the helmet law as something that has been designed to be a pain in the ass or a way for the government to gather money (there's an NT$500 fine) rather than to save lives. Often, these parents don't even bother to do up the chin straps on their own helmets. Then there's the problem of them taking babies along for the ride, like the one I saw strapped to a woman's back as she drove over Huazhong Bridge (華中橋) doing at least 50 kilometers an hour the other day. His wee arms and legs were flapping in the wind. If you fall off your bike, lady, what do you think is going to happen to the baby? Just a few bumps or a scrape on the shin? Or you don't think it'll happen to you, right? But there are thousands of traffic fatalities in Taiwan each year; in fact, Taiwan has had the highest traffic fatality rate in the world, with 60 percent of the deaths happening to motorcyclists or scooterists.

What I don't understand is this: is it illegal to put more than one passenger on a motorcycle or scooter? I saw this sign in the Ming Chuan MRT Station. It's good advice, but I'm afraid that's all it is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_cowsill/4826808634/
Does anyone know the law? I'd be curious to find out.   

3 comments:

dennis said...

no idea patrick, but a good guess would b what it says on that sign u linked, 2 people

Thoth Harris said...

Good post, Patrick. Yes, I am pretty sure it's illegal, from what I've been told. One passenger in the back, and that's all you're allowed. Of course, no one will go after you if you're in a lot of small towns. Somehow, I'm somewhat more in favour of such laissez-faire. Taipei has far too many rules. It is impossible to park your car, or get anywhere (even walking) without being fined every so often.
Enforcement won't change things. A change of the culture so that a vast majority of people get some form of commonsense will.
If you're in a residential area of a small town, does it make sense for Taipei rules to prevail? For example, I personally know some people who have a big scooter specifically so that the man, his wife, their teenaged daughter and their dog can go to the park by the river. The park is only a few blocks away. It's too far to walk to, but it's perfect to take everybody on their scooter. I say we just drive with awareness (which nobody does here). It gets even worse at the supermarket, where every damned person moves like a meandering snail, and then they look at you shocked if you squeeze past them on your determined journey from one area of the store to another.

Terry J. Benzie said...

I asked someone about that sometime back and they said that there were actually very few rules related to scooters. Regarding helmets, the law only applies to adults and from my experience, your estimate of 50% helmet use on kids is rather high.