SEOUL, April 4 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea is finally forcing passengers to wear a seatbelt at all times.
Police announced a universal seatbelt law last week, forcing drivers and passengers in all seats to wear a seatbelt, including taxis and express buses, also known as red buses, from late September.
Those breaching the new traffic law will face a fine of 30,000 won, with those younger than 13 facing a fine twice as high.
Despite a gradual decline in recent years, South Korea’s traffic death rate is still one of the highest among the member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In 2016, 10 per 100,000 South Koreans succumbed to traffic accidents, leaving the country the sixth most accident-prone after Mexico, Chile, the U.S., Latvia and Turkey.
The figure has been on a steady decline since peaking at 49 per 100,000 in 1995, down to a fifth of the previous high over the last 21 years.
Under current legislation, passengers in South Korea are legally obliged to wear a seatbelt only on the highway.
The move has been widely hailed as a timely measure, as many South Koreans are still not used to wearing a seatbelt.
According to the 2016 road traffic and accident data from the OECD, just 3 in 10 South Koreans said they wear a seatbelt while in the back seat, with the rest finding it ‘bothersome’ and not a usual habit.
Figures from other member states paint a grimmer picture, as most Germans, Australians and Japanese passengers wore a seatbelt while in the back seat, drawing a stark difference with their South Korean counterparts.
Australia passed similar seatbelt legislation in the 1970s while Germany followed suit in the mid-1980s.
Wearing a seatbelt in the back seat can reduce the risk of death by 15 to 32 percent in case of a car accident, while drivers without a seatbelt face increased risk of up to 75 percent, according to research cited by the Korean National Police Agency in 2008.
In fact, the traffic-related death rates began falling in the country soon after 1980 when a seatbelt law was first introduced for vehicles on the highway.
Some express concerns however, as passengers not wearing a seat belt can go unnoticed more easily unlike other traffic law violations such as driving under the influence.
“Do I really have to wear it in the back seat? I feel like it’s too much to wear a belt in a taxi. It makes me feel restrained, particularly when I’m traveling short distances,” says, Jang, a 23-year-old office worker.
Jang is not alone in not being used to wearing a seatbelt while using public transport.
In a survey conducted by the Korea Consumer Agency, only 10.1 and 3.4 percent of passengers on city buses and red buses traveling between Seoul and suburban areas said they wear a seat belt.
With many South Koreans considering wearing seatbelts on public transport ‘excessive’, police hope to raise awareness and promote the policy in the run-up to the September 28.
“Over the next six months until the revised traffic law takes effect, we will continue promotional activities and guide the public about the importance of wearing a seatbelt,” a police official said.
Under the revised traffic law, cyclists under the influence will also face a fine of up to 200,000 won, with plans to detail legal grounds underway.
The Korean National Police Agency has said enforcement rules will be revised before September so that bus drivers won’t face punishment for passengers not wearing a seatbelt.
Ashley Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)