- Image courtesy of Jasmine Yu
Taiwan's new seat belt law, meant to protect the good people of this land, has citizens up in arms and swinging.
A couple of weeks ago, Taiwan's very own Makiyo (the media isn't exactly embracing her as one of our own while at the same time labeling American phenom Jeremy Lin local goods, but that's the topic of another post) took part in an attack on a taxi driver for suggesting she ought to follow the law and buckle up. For his concern, the driver received a concussion, broken ribs, a visit to intensive care and overblown media attention.
The law now reads like this: passengers (or at least most passengers) will buckle up or be subject to a fine of NT$4500. I have not been without my own (mis)adventures concerning the new law.
Tonight, after picking up my daughter and wife on my way home from the office, we hailed a taxi. The concept was simple: we'd worked hard (and played to a similar effect in the case of my daughter) all day long and were dead tired. We thought we'd treat ourselves to ride home in comfort this cold and dark Friday evening, no questions asked, just drop us off where we needed to go. We didn't have it in us for a ride on public transport.
After piling into a cab at the corner of Chungshiao (忠孝) and Linsen (林森), we immediately set about buckling in. My wife first fastened her own seat belt while I held the wiggly Ahleena, our daughter, down and plied her with an iPhone. Then it came time for me, only we could not find the nozzle to fasten the clasp. It was buried deep beneath the seat, according to our driver. I asked him to pull over because he was driving while my offspring and I were not buckled in. He did so and then both he and my wife worked at retrieving nozzle.
A couple of minutes later, we were back on the road. A problem still existed however. Even though the nozzle had been located, I still couldn't get it to go into the clasp of my seat belt: "Try your daughter's clasp," the driver suggested. And like magic it worked. Then I set about trying to get the other clasp to take hold so I would also be battened down. No such luck. I stared at the "Buckle up or pay NT$4500" sticker on the back of the front seat, stuck over the holes where the headrest was supposed to be about ten centimeters from my face, and declared: "It's not working."
"Try again," he said, and we disappeared into the underpass reaching from the Xinyi District of Taipei into Wanhua (萬華). When we emerged, my daughter was set but I still was still not buckled in. That I even cared seemed to annoy the driver. "I'm just going to pull over," he announced. "It's up to you! We can continue or you can get out." In other words, we could go home without a seat belt working or get the fu%# out.
"Good idea," I said, taking him up on his idea. "I've really had enough." The reason I wanted to take a taxi home revolved around a concept of relaxation. This was more than I had bargained for and I explained it in like terms. When we got out, I was surprised, no, make that pissed off, to discover the driver expected us to pay, even though his illegal cab hadn't delivered us to our destination but rather hauled us 300 meters or so down the street and deposited us in a mist of wet coldness. "I've got a better idea," I said. "Right over there is a police station. Do you see it? Let's go over there and report a) how you've gypped us out of a comfortable ride home and b) you're operating without seat belts." I figured I had it in the bag, but instead, the driver took me up on my offer. He even tailed us, as we walked for a couple of blocks in the rain to the station, on this night we'd paid extra to hail a cab to be out of the muck.
Normally, the police are interested to hear a foreigner speak Chinese. This time however they couldn't care less. The minute they heard it was seat belt related, they were fed up. The guy who seemed to be running the joint did not have the time of day for our dispute; he immediately assigned the case to someone who was about to start shaving peach fuzz next week. I will say that the youngster, Officer Liang, was both patient and concerned nonetheless; he constantly scribbled our utterances down in a pocketbook. He then directed the taxi driver to present his cab. After watching the driver enact a dangerous slice across traffic through a busy intersection, one that involved a near takeout of a scooter, Officer Liang had his body of evidence. "OK, let's have a look at those seat belts," he said, choosing to ignore the driver's crazy maneuver over the crosswalk and against a red light.
It was now the driver's chance and he meant to make the most of it. He climbed in the back seat and proved that indeed all the seat belts could be fastened. But, as I later showed, this could not be done in a normal position. The only way such a feat could be achieved was by putting both knees on the seat, an ass against the window and then applying a particular slamming action with the palm.
"I'll knock off 20$NT. He still needs to pay me NT$80," the driver said.
"There's no way I am paying more than half." Actually half would have been about NT$35, seeing as the meter had run the whole time the driver had followed us, but I held out an NT$50 coin. Here we were arguing over about a dollar. Weirdly, the driver took it and even said thank you. Then, get this, Officer Liang asked me,
"Do you want him to take you home still?" Good idea or what?
"Do you want him to take you home still?" Good idea or what?
In my opinion, Taiwan's new seat belt law, which I accept as a good one, is screwed from inception because the people don't want to conceive of its positive intent. I'm guessing it'll fade out in six months or so. What I experienced with this pugnacious driver is one of the reasons: the drivers don't give a shi%. And why should they? After all, they're simply reading the public will and responding to it. The very next cab we grabbed was no better; my wife clearly asked the driver before we entered this: "Do you have seat belts for all of us?" Once inside, the driver said:
"People find buckling up an inconvenience, especially if they don't want to go far." When it turned out that he didn't have enough seat belts for the three of us, he simply pulled up to the curb and let us out. There would be other passengers out there in the darkness who didn't care about buckling up to follow the law, so it hardly seemed worth it on a Friday night.
The third driver had a similar attitude: he told us that, even though there was indeed a seat belt regulation, there was no need to fumble about and get agitated, as we were, trying to take care of our daughter, because only adult passengers would be fined! What kind of parents would we be if we only buckled ourselves in safe while ignoring the needs of our four-year-old?
To tell the truth, I kind of admire the scrappiness of the first driver. But.... I didn't care for this: he seemed at the end of the day simply concerned with people getting screwed financially and nothing else factored into his conviction. To me, the reaction to the new law reflects the attitude to the helmet law. When we see motorcyclists in Taipei who wear helmets but do not bother to take such precautions for their offspring, it speaks to this idea: namely, the only reason I conform is I don't want to get a ticket.
I guess I'm being stubborn and this sounds a bit corny, but Taiwan's new seat belt law is important to me. I will conform to the new law and won't be denied my right for safe, or at least safer, passage.