[FORUM]Making people obey the lawA Korean friend who lives in the United States came to visit Korea after being away a long time. One of the sights that most surprised him, he said, was the placards on the streets that read “Please stop at the stop line.” He had paused to read the omnipresent placards because he at first thought they were advertising an international event or festival.
He said he was amazed to find out that they were part of a campaign appealing to the public to do a most elementary and commonsensical thing: obey traffic regulations. Was this the true face of Koreans who prided themselves on being a law-abiding people who hosted the Olympic Games and the World Cup with such pomp and circumstance?
He said he was embarrassed to see the numerous police officers who had to stand watch at pedestrian crossings to make sure that drivers stopped at the stop lines. What kind of public doesn’t even stop at stop lines?
When stricter regulations first take effect on June 1, cars wondrously stopped at the stop lines. Until then, the common sight at stop lines was cars competing to nose their bumpers inches ahead of the others in mutual ignorance of the stop lines painted on the road. Unfortunately, the wonder did not last long. A few days ago, police officers were again posted on the major crossroads at random hours because of a sharp increase in traffic violations.
We truly must be a chronically impatient people who find it inherently difficult to stop at stop lines. Whenever I witness buses at the intersection in Gwanghwamun that fly by ignoring red lights, let alone stop lines, I feel a mixture of despair and fury. I get angry at the traffic police officers for failing to catch those buses quickly enough.
It is quite clear what the authorities must do. They must implement even stricter supervision and, if necessary, set stronger penalties. The people must understand that stop lines are the lifelines of pedestrians. We demand self-regulation in our society but end up inviting regulations and outside intervention by violating the law and order.
It is a disgrace that we should be unable to stop at stop lines while we emphasize the importance of human lives and rights. And yet, the public goes wild when regulations are tightened. External supervision is unavoidable when so many people are getting hurt or killed because drivers fail to stop at the stop lines.
A few years ago, there was a television show that gave awards to drivers who stopped at the stop lines. The hidden cameras at the time showed that very few people stopped at the stop lines. The show compared this with Japan, where almost all the cars stopped at the stop lines.
A lot of viewers expressed shame at this fact but since then, not much has changed with our society’s overall neglect for traffic regulations. I hope people at least understand that no advanced country in the world has citizens that ignore the stop lines like we do. Blaming the roads or infrastructure won’t solve the problem.
In a few years, some automakers will start selling cars that won’t start when they detect that the driver is drunk. This is a last resort to prevent drunk driving. If the stop line campaign does not achieve significant results and more lives continue to be lost, we will need to conduct research on even more preventive measures. Isn’t there a way to make cars automatically stop when the red light comes on?
This may be a nonsensical plan but we are running out of ideas fast. There is probably no other country in the world that has as many speed bumps as Korea. How are we to ever cure the impatience of Koreans who can’t even stop at stop lines?
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Chul-joo