There is no doubt that the passage of the Children’s Life and Safety law, otherwise known as the Min-sik law, would protect children from fatal accidents in school zones. However, this law cannot protect drivers from unfair application of the law. Min-sik’s law focuses solely on forcibly punishing drivers without any consideration to mitigating circumstances. For this reason, although the bill passed the plenary session of the National Assembly on December 10, the proposed law is facing a strong backlash from drivers because of its harsh application in school zones. The law will take effect in March 2020. Thus, people who think the Min-sik law must be amended are petitioning the blue house for change.
Min-sik’s law was created after 9-year-old Kim Min-sik was struck down by a vehicle outside, his elementary school in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, in September 2019. The bill instantly gained media attention on November 19 when President Moon Jae-in was questioned Kim’s parents during a town hall meeting. In his response, Moon promised a speedy passage of a bill to prevent future tragic accidents in school zones. “Min-sik’s law” was enacted reflecting Kim’s parent’s claim that their son died because of a careless driver in a school zones. Thus, the law includes an Additional Punishment Law on Specific Crimes and revises existing traffic laws with stiffer penalties for drivers involved in accidents with children in school zones. According to Min-sik’s law, speed cameras and traffic lights must be installed in all school zones, -300 meters from school entrances. In addition, drivers who kill a child aged 13 and under, while driving in a school zone at a speed faster than the limit of 30km/h will be sentenced to a minimum three-year jail term, and those who injure a child will be sentenced to a jail term between one and 15 years or be fined between 5 to 30 million won. Moreover, even if the driver had complied with the speed limit, the strict – punishment will still apply.
While this may seem reasonable, there are several problems that were overlooked before passing Min-sik’s bill. First, the punishment is unfair compared to other criminal laws for crimes. Second, it is hard to say that a driver is fully responsible and there is no room in the law to assess a driver’s level of culpability. Third, it is difficult to prove that the driver complied with all his or her responsibilities while driving in the school zone, making the assumption of guilt, easy to defend. To understand the reason these concerns were raised, we need to know more about the actual background of this tragic event. The accident was a result of road conditions and not because of driver’s negligence. According to black box evidence, many cars were illegally parked along the roadside blocking the driver’s view of possible young pedestrians. Contrary to Kim’s parents’ statements of deliberate negligence, the child came out from behind the parked cars and was killed. The driver was travelling below the 30km/h limit. The only duty that the driver didn’t comply with was slowing down to pause in front of the crosswalk. However, the crosswalk is in front of an intersection that has no traffic light. Placing a traffic light at the intersection would have significantly reduced the risk of an accident as it would have forced the drive to come to a stop. Despite these circumstances, the driver was charged with driver negligence, even if the accident was an inevitable tragedy.
Instead of a strict punitive law, there should be realistic preventive measures introduced to reduce accidents in school zones. Here are some more effective suggestions that our society can put into practice ensuring a balance between driver responsibility and child safety. First, a traffic light should be installed at the intersection. Next, install obligatory school zone fences and enforce traffic rules in pick-up and drop-off zones. Then, strengthen camera installations so they crackdown on illegal parking in school zones. Without these efforts, Min-sik’s law will put many drivers and students at undue risk. Many daycare centers unwilling to assume driver responsibility under the new laws, to announce they would no longer operate school buses. Moreover, about 68,000 people signed on to a petition seeking amendments to the law that would offer more balance between enforcement of good driving and practical measures to protect children.
The government is responsible for the safety of children and other ordinary citizens. This law is unfair as compared to other criminal laws. The penalties are too harsh when a driver is given a three-year prison term for negligence without taking into consideration how much both parties are at fault. Greater consideration needs to be given to the mitigating circumstances of the accident and comparative laws must be examined to ensure the relative punishment is suitable for the situation at hand. In other words, there is no difference in punishment between those guilty of negligence and those culpable of a deliberate offense under the new terms of the Additional Punishment Law on Specific Crimes. Thus the penalty of negligence needs to be lowered. With these few minor adjustments, the government can deliver its commitment to protecting children and ordinary citizens by building a safer environment for everyone involved.
|▲ Traffic warning signs of school zone. (Photo from Yonhap News)|