|▲ Many accidents were caused by simplified driver’s license system.|
On July 31, a tragic accident involving seven cars took pace in Haeundae, Pusan. It has been called the ‘crazy dash’ because it left people baffled as to how it escalated and why there were so many victims. Investigations from the police originally revealed that the assailant suffered from epilepsy, and was said to have had a seizure while driving, but further evidence led them to conclude that the assailant was in fact attempting to escape the scene of a hit-and-run accident, and therefore was conscious at the time.
Regardless of the circumstances, many people are pointing to the current system licensing in the Republic of Korea for blame calling it weak and outdated. In their opinion, regulating applicants, who have a potentially serious disability, is in need of change. Therefore, the Dankook Herald (DKH) took the time to look at the treatment of individuals with physical disabilities, when it comes to vehicle licensing, and compared our system those of other countries to try to seek out viable solutions.
The process for earning a basic driver’s license in Korea is simple. If the applicant is over 18 years of age, they are able to take the licensing test. All potential drivers must be able to pass a simple physical, which tests your eyesight and hearing. That is to say, further examination into a person’s medical history is not closely inspected. In addition, according to the Korea Road Traffic Authority, this checkup was simplified in 2013 for the convenience of potential applicants. So, if a driver has any disability, they are required to report it to the licensing office voluntarily. However, there are obvious problems with a system of voluntary disclosure.
Applicants who suffer from disabilities, such as epilepsy, are normally rejected. However, if they are able to get a medical certificate stating their disability is not debilitating, and they are able to function like ordinary people on the roads, then they are permitted to seek out a driver’s license. Despite their disease, they are not rejected if they can prove they have not been hospitalized due to the disability, within the last six months.
For these reasons, diabetics, who can go into shock due to low blood sugar levels and people with dementia, are even allowed to drive without any restrictions. Actually, the number of patients who suffer from diabetes has reached the four million mark in Korea. However, there are no regulations that restrict diabetic patients from driving. In addition, it is estimated that more than half of the number of people who are diagnosed with dementia can continue driving.
The situation is quite different in other countries. If epilepsy is detected, while an applicant is undergoing a medical exam, their driver’s license is immediately suspendedin the United States (USA), Japan and the United Kingdom (UK). In the USA, diabetic patients have to go through an additional evaluation when renewing their license. In the UK, people with dementia must take a separate exam. In Japan, if applicants are judged unfit because of dementia, their licenses are also cancelled. This approach is in stark contrast to our system that focuses on driver’s convenience and honest reporting.
As a result, people suffering from disabilities, Koreans and foreigners alike, can acquire a license under our lackluster set of rules. So what changes should we are seeking and what are some of the roadblocks to change? The DKH interviewed a worker with the Road Traffic Authority about their thoughts on the licensing system in Korea. They spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Road Traffic Authority is now looking at ways to do better than we are today. Many people bring up the question of the aptitude test. They said the test is still poor because the test time is too short to be able to adequately verify a potential driver’s true ability. Drivers can also evade or cheat the Road Traffic Authority by getting a medical diagnosis from a village doctor. Second, there is a problem with our over-simplified and easy testing system. Our system was reformed, in order to simplify the functional test for a driver’s license, because many citizens did not want to face strict evaluation criteria. However in September, there are plans to revise the functional test,” he said of the drawbacks and improvements to the licensing system in Korea.
The DKH asked about the possibility of an automatic connection system, which would offer up the last two years of medical documents of potential applicants to the Road Traffic Authority. He answered, “Surely, an automaticconnection is desirable however,a two year history may be too long. I think 1 year is sufficient.”
If the government of Republic of Korea were to regulate the licensing system better, people would have more confidence in the system. According to the National Police in Korea, the current system of driving 50m and following basic traffic rules with the ability to make a sudden stop is only skills tested in the current functional test. But in October, new rules will come into force that requires drivers to travel more than 300m, turn left or right, understand the signals at an intersection, drive down a slope, and park at a right angle. Furthermore, compulsory education will increase from four to two hours and drivers who fail to pass the exam twice will be disqualified. This is down from the current seven. In fact, the road test will adjust 59 of its current items, in order to improve safe driving.
There is no clear cause for the tragic accident that took place in Haeundae, however, many people are looking to the driver’s licensing system for solutions. Driving offers people convenience, but we cannot forget that it is also potentially dangerous. If people were required to get a proper and strict driving education, we should be able to reduce the number of traffic accidents and feel safer on the roads.
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