[EDITORIALS]Make our roads safer

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[EDITORIALS]Make our roads safer

The Road Traffic Safety Authority said there were 12,036 traffic-related deaths last year, 426,984 injuries and total losses of 8.9 trillion won ($6.8 billion). Even though the year 2000 is long gone, it is worthwhile to look at the data again to see what has been done or not done over the last year.

For more than 20 years, the government has spent enormous sums of money to curtail traffic accidents. But we have yet to shed the disgrace of being the leading country for traffic accidents; a person dies on the road every 42 minutes.

Traffic-related responsibilities are scattered among various agencies in the government. There are two ministries and two agencies besides the police and local government overseeing different policies. That is a way of doing things that requires a lot of money but yields few results.

There are three elements to a traffic accident - road conditions, the vehicle and the driver - and it is only when all three elements mesh that traffic accidents can decline.

Road conditions are especially important. Roads have to be designed, built and maintained so that a driver with average skills paying an average amount of attention can travel safely. Research has shown that fatal accidents here are concentrated on less-traveled roads where policing is relatively light and on city roads late at night. There are more than 7,000 of these accident-prone spots throughout the country.

The bureaucracy allows the police and local governments each to push responsibility the other's way. The responsibility for maintaining roads falls on local governments, but the police are responsible for the installation and maintenance of traffic safety devices on the roads. The budget for both is the local governments' responsibility, but they often appropriate just half of what is needed - only the construction and maintenance needs - and the police do not seem to object.

First, the construction and maintenance of traffic control devices must be moved to local government jurisdiction. That will ensure that there will be at least one entity that will be watching traffic accident figures very closely. Second, reducing traffic accidents should be an important item in evaluating the job performance of mayors and provincial governors.
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